Snakeheads are one fish that epitomizes the worst in invasive species: they disrupt the food chain, multiply like mad, and they may even be the world’s ugliest fish. Ever since they first made an appearance in a Maryland pond in the late 90’s and earned the moniker “Frankenfish”, they’ve spread like wildfire. Fisheries biologists blame the live-fish trade common to Asian food markets, where snakeheads were common fare (they’re now banned in many areas). The most popular theory is that people kept snakeheads in aquariums as pets instead of eating them, then released the fish into the wild.
Snakeheads have been found in the wild from Texas to New York, but one of the areas most impacted by this invader has been the Potomac River, where snakeheads have been found in huge numbers from its fresh headwaters all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay—and Maryland fisheries managers are hopping mad about it. They’re worried these slimy invaders will out-compete the native bass, gorge themselves on endangered shad, and otherwise throw the aquatic environment out of balance. In fact, anglers are asked to document all snakehead encounters by snapping a photo of the fish, and then going to Maryland’s DNR web site to log the successful kill (anglers are required by state law to immediately kill all snakeheads they catch).
Do so, and you’ll automatically be entered to win prizes ranging from a rod and reel combo valued at $200, to a free 2012 fishing license. This program follows an all too successful bounty program started by Bass Pro Shops, which was offering rewards ranging from $10 to $50 per snakehead (depending on size). The program was abruptly ended when a pair of enterprising anglers walked through the door with several buckets jam-packed with the invasive species—80 in all—worth about $4,000. (No, Bass Pro did not make good on the deal).
There’s another reward anglers can claim, for catching a snakehead anywhere in the nation: a good meal. The Frankenfish is actually good to eat, and it’s considered a delicacy in many Asian nations. Here’s how to go from bounty hunting to fine dining:
1. Mix a cup of soy sauce with two tablespoons scallions, two tablespoons chopped onions, one tablespoon chopped garlic, and a quarter cup of sliced mushrooms.
2. Pour the mixture over the fish, and steam or sauté the headed and gutted snakehead in the liquid for about 30 minutes.
3. Flake the meat off the body, and form it into cakes.
4. Fry the fish cakes until they brown.
5. Enjoy your meal with the knowledge that you’ve helped prevent the spread of the Frakenfish.