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New incentives to catch a 'Frankenfish' in Maryland

Thursday - 7/24/2014, 4:58am  ET

Frankenfish, Northern Snakehead (Getty Images)
In this undated handout photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a northern snakehead fish is held. The northern snakehead, dubbed 'Frankenfish', is an invasive species from Asia that threatens North American ecosystems. The fish is highly predatory and some species have the ability to breathe air while crossing land to new bodies of water. The snakehead has been found in parts of Maryland as well as in Lake Michigan. (Photo by the SDA via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- There's a new incentive to go out and catch a nasty-looking fish nicknamed the "Frankenfish" in Maryland.

For years, Maryland has documented record-size catches of dozens of different sport fish caught in its waters.

Now, the state has started awarding records for catching several invasive species including the Northern Snakehead.

And interestingly, the first state record for a snakehead was held for only a few hours.

It was a 16.78 pound fish caught June 1 in Pomonkey Creek by Jay Berry of Chesapeake Beach. Not long after, another snakehead was officially weighed in at 16.94 pounds. That one was caught in Mattawoman Creek by Teddy McKenzie of Upper Marlboro. Both fishermen are getting plaques to reward them for their record- setting catches.

"We're hoping that this will help promote the idea of catching and taking these fish out of the ecosystem," says Don Cosden, chief of Inland Fisheries for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"The snakehead ... has expanded its range, has moved out of the Potomac now, throughout many of the Eastern Shore rivers. They tend to be not quite as tolerant of high salinities, but they will swim through regions with high salinities in order to find areas of fresher water where then they can stay and expand their populations in new areas. And we've seen that happen in rivers around the bay," he says.

He says the snakehead could be making the biggest impact in small streams where it can grow to 10 or 12 pounds.

"A fish that size can have a major impact on a small stream that's only a couple of feet deep. It may forage and almost eat everything within a short range," Cosden says.

It's hard to know just how many snakeheads are now living in the region, but Cosden says there are encouraging signs.

"Its population may have leveled off in the last couple of years on the Potomac River. It's become pretty abundant, maybe not quite as abundant as some of the more prevalent species like catfish [and] perch."

In order to be eligible for a state record with a Northern Snakehead, you have to keep and kill that particular fish and get it weighed on a certified scale.

Cosden says whether the snakehead you catch is big or small, you should get it on your plate.

"Snakehead is an excellent eating fish, you can fix it many different ways. That's why it was initially brought into this country for its food value," he says.

Read more about the Northern Snakehead on the Department of Natural Resources website and about Maryland's state records for sport fish.

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