The recent video footage of an Asian snakehead fish discovered in Metro Vancouver Burnaby pond in central park has the ministry of the environment and a biologist trying to track down this aquatic predator, which can also live out of water for a brief time and travel short distances on land.
The snakehead fish originates from Asia, Russia and some say as far as Africa. The snakehead, a delicacy in the Chinese culture are sold live in select Asian supermarkets, leaving many to believe it was introduced into Burnaby central park waters by humans.
While Canada and the US have strict laws banning the import of foreign or invasive species such as certain animals, fish, insects, plants, fruits and vegetables. The snakehead is one invasive species that obviously slipped through the cracks.
A snakehead which can grow to a meter long and weigh well over 10 pounds is armed with piranha like razor sharp teeth. These snakeheads are one aggressive predator, lying in wait for a meal, making short work of any passing fish or mammal, including a child who happens to dip a toe or finger into the shallow water as a snakehead rises close to the surface to sun themselves or lie in wait in the shallows for other fish to do the same.
The biggest concern is spring, a prime spawning season for most fish species that go into breeding mode along the shallow shoreline amongst the weeds; the snakehead can produce up to 12,000 to 15, 000 eggs at a time and breed multiple times during the year.
If these snakeheads ever escape into the Fraser, one of its tributaries or nearby streams where salmon and other native species live the snakehead could have serious consequences not just to our native fish species, but to swimmers as well.
The Burnaby central park waters and other aquatic areas are stocked full of carp (Koi and Goldfish are also the same species), which can lay a million eggs during the spring spawning season. Carp being plentiful in Burnaby Lake is a favourite meal for snakeheads. Visitors to the area enjoy viewing the carp and Koi as they swim about.
Carp, another invasive species, not native to Canada was first introduced in the early 1800s by Europeans who settled in eastern Canada and valued the European carp as a food source.
British Columbia lakes, the ones which are landlocked can only have Asian carp if introduced by humans. There are sloughs east of Abbotsford which contain Asian carp, which will be detrimental to native fish such as salmon, trout and other native fish.
Virtually every lake with a tributary in eastern Canada is populated with European carp; a single carp lays an average of 1 million eggs. Just in numbers alone it is easy to see why Carp can decimate native fish populations such as salmon and trout who use the same spawning grounds. Eastern European Carp in the Saint Lawrence Seaway can reach a meter across and weigh close to 60 pounds, though the average is around 25 pounds. It is easy to see why smaller Salmon, trout and other native species can be pushed out of their spawning grounds heading to deeper water to release their eggs. Once our native fish species release their eggs in deeper water it is unlikely they can be fertilized and die off.
The lucky native fish species who lay their eggs and fertilize them successfully in the shallow waters soon find their efforts are for naught; their eggs are soon sucked up by thousands of carp whose enormous mouths scour the bottom of the spawning bed as they too look to lay their own eggs.
Salmon and some game fish, once plentiful in the St. Lawrence have been a rare sight for decades due to the carp’s ability to take over just in sheer numbers.
The St. Lawrence Seaway in an attempt to give native fish species a fighting chance at survival hold spring fishing derbies during the carp spawning season. This is a popular sport throughout the US and Canada bordering the Seaway and nearby waterways. Everything from fishing rods to bows and arrows are used to shoot carp by the millions.
Harvested carp are then sent off to a processing plant to make everything from pet food, fertilizer to cosmetics. Cash or prizes are usually given to the angler or archer who bags the largest carp or largest number of carp in a given weekend. Unfortunately while millions of carp are harvested it only makes a miniscule dent in the carp population.
While most enjoy viewing our flora and fauna as they trek through our great outdoors, perhaps food for thought. While entertaining to look at, remember once an invasive species gets a foothold in Canada and if not controlled and eliminated by political will, in a short time will decimate our own native species, leaving us with very little to marvel as our native species will soon disappear, never to recover when our motto has always been “Super Natural British Columbia”.