Finding Fishzilla

It’s like a scene from a horror flick: A man, fishing on the shore of a quiet lake, notices a large shadow lingering in the murky depths below. He leans in to get a closer look… Suddenly, a scaly, sharp-toothed creature launches out of the water into the mud, slithering forward on spiny fins. The man screams in terror and stumbles back into the fog. All goes black; Fishzilla strikes again.

All right, so perhaps that’s an exaggeration.

Although the northern snakehead fish — named for its long, thin body and rows of needlelike teeth — hasn’t been known to take down a human (yet), its invasive habits and lack of natural predators certainly pose a threat for aquatic critters everywhere. And right now, the waters surrounding the Hudson are at risk.

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“Last summer, a fisherman on Catlin Creek [in the Town of Wawayanda] caught some snakeheads,” says Mike Flaherty, regional fisheries manager of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC treated the area with rotenone, a natural pesticide extracted from the roots of tropical plants — but some of the fish survived.

Because Catlin Creek connects to larger bodies of water (which eventually lead to the Hudson), there’s a chance the snakeheads could severely affect the Valley’s ecosystems. Native to Asia and dubbed “Fishzilla” due to its aggressive nature, adult snakeheads are capable of growing up to three feet long and weighing 15 pounds — “approximately the size of a small cat,” Flaherty says. The monster fish, which was most likely transported to the States as part of the food market, feeds on minnows, frogs, and even small mammals. Aided by the ability to travel and survive on land for almost four days, this fearsome fish makes Jaws look like a house pet.

But for frightened guppies in Orange County waterways, there’s hope: This fall, the DEC is teaming up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to spritz the area surrounding Catlin Creek with another round of rotenone. This time, they aren’t taking any chances. “We’ll use these amphibious vehicles called Marshmasters,” says Flaherty. “They’re kind of like mini-tanks.”

But is a tank enough to halt Fishzilla?

They may be tough, Flaherty says. “But we won’t stop looking for them.”

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