The State of Maryland really doesn’t like the frightful northern snakehead. Its name, while grimly evocative, doesn’t quite do the creature justice. It’s an ugly, slimy fish that can reach weights of 15 pounds or more, it looks like a torpedo with a mouthful of sharp, needle-like teeth, and it can even survive out of water for several days and wriggle along on land. And, it’s an invasive species to boot.
The northern snakehead is native to Asia and simply doesn’t belong in Maryland, but when one thoughtless pet owner dumped some of the fish into Maryland waters, the state took action. (Anybody who would want these horrors for pets probably shouldn’t be permitted to own them, when you think about it.) When the state found the fish in a pond, it poisoned the pond, and when it found the fish in a lake, it drained the lake. But the northern snakehead apparently is as wily and hardy as it is repulsive, because the fish kept turning up — and then it was finally found in the Potomac River, where the poisoning and draining approaches obviously wouldn’t work. In the meantime, people started catching the northern snakehead, or seeing it in the river, and were close to freaking out for fear that it might eat their pets or be some kind of poisonous mutant.
So Maryland decided to take another tack — now, it is encouraging people to hunt for the northern snakehead and eat it. Maryland sponsors snakehead fishing tournaments and offers licenses to hunt the fish with bow and arrow, and Maryland restaurants have started serving the fish to customers, too. The fish apparently has a firm, white, mild flesh, but to get to it you have to first scrape off a thick layer of slime — which doesn’t exactly make the fish seem appetizing, does it? Still, its meat apparently stands up well to seasoning, and it is perfectly edible for most people . . . if they don’t know about the monstrosity from which the meat came. Some people, on the other hand, actually like the idea of striking back and eating the flesh of the scary invasive species that shouldn’t be in the Potomac River in the first place.
Maryland has gone from no commercial fishing of the northern snakehead to harvesting thousands of the pounds of the fish for restaurants. It’s still got a long way to go before it can eat its way out of the northern snakehead infestation, but it’s made a good start. We all know about how the destructive activities and appetites of human beings have put some creatures onto the endangered species list, and worse. Maybe this time we can finally put those destructive tendencies to good use. Who knows: if we can eat our way to the demise of the northern snakehead, perhaps we can take the same creative and filling approach to the dreaded Asian carp, zebra mussels, and sea lampreys that are invasive species in the Great Lakes?