“Fishzilla” in Burnaby Park

Image from YouTube video by Ron Gonzales

National Geographic has referred to the snakehead¬†fish as “fishzilla” because it can be an extremely¬†invasive freshwater species. Snakehead¬†fish are native¬†to Africa and Asia,¬†but in Canada they¬†are sold as pets or¬†served in restaurants. These fish resemble snakes in the patterns and markings on their scales, and are distinguished¬†by long dorsal fins, and elongated bodies.¬†They¬†are¬†top-level predators and can cause great ecological damage¬†because they don’t have any natural enemies if they are¬†not in their native habitats. They¬†feed on other¬†fish, rodents, frogs, small mammals and water fowl.¬†¬†They can breathe air and¬†migrate on land for up to 1/4 of a mile in distance, as long as they remain wet, enabling¬†them to track more food in new environments.

It is no wonder there is cause for concern when a YouTube video surfaced of a snakehead fish living in the lagoon in Burnaby Central Park. While the sighting has yet to be confirmed by officials, the provincial government is not taking the information lightly. Since a snakehead fish can be extremely damaging to the environment, the provincial government is arranging a team to seek out the fish and confirm the identification. According to an invasive species specialist, Matthias Herbourg, snakehead varieties can vary and it is uncertain which kind of snakehead this is. If it is a tropical variety there would be no need for concern, but it could be disastrous if it is a coldwater snakehead, as they are well-known for wiping out native species when introduced to foreign waters.

Snakeheads can be sold as pets or as food. Herborg said tropical species are not a concern, but coldwater snakeheads are. Herborg said they may use nets or electrofishing, which involves zapping the water with a light electrical current so nearby fish float to the surface. The procedure won’t kill the fish, but it allows government staff to pick out any snakeheads they find.

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