Lafayette, LA (KPEL News) - Louisiana fishermen know which fish are "trash fish" and which ones you throw back. Not many Bayou State anglers or residents, for that matter, are frightened of fish. Snakes, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Enter the snakehead fish, and there are several reasons it's scary.

The predatory fish that is native to Asia and made its way to Louisiana in 2023. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries put out a brochure explaining what the snakehead looks like, what you should do if you catch one, and why you should notify them. Louisiana, however, is not the only state battling this air-breathing, land-walking fish. They have traveled to at least a dozen states and, despite advice to the contrary, one of those states is taking a different stand, and it starts with giving the scary fish a new name.

snakehead fish
Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
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Let's be honest. The name snakehead is off-putting. Originally, fishermen who caught one mistook it for the native-to-Louisiana Bowfin or Choupique. But the snakehead's coloring is different, it's fins are different size and shape, and it has the look of a snake.

WHAT IS IT AND WHY IS IT DANGEROUS?

Did I mention it breathes air? Yep. According to the LDWF brochure:

Their name comes from the enlarged scales that cover their heads. Snakeheads are obligate air breathers. Unlike most fish, they must obtain oxygen directly from the air rather than water. They can live up to three days outside of water. They can move short distances on land through a wiggling motion.

That's the stuff nightmares are made of!

The only place, so far, that have reported catches is Concordia Parish in a waterway about 12 miles from the Mississippi line. By the way, Mississippi is one of the other states with reports of the snakehead.

There are four different species of snakehead fish in the United States and can grow to a length of three feet. They are highly predatory and feed on other fish, frogs, and crawfish. Snakeheads also breed quickly, so they can easily overtake other fish populations.

In Louisiana, officials request that, if you catch one, you don't throw it back. Take a side-view picture, kill it, freeze it, and contact your local Wildlife and Fisheries Office. Also, remember where you caught it so agents can track where they are populating.

snakehead vs choupique
Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
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WHY THE NAME CHANGE?

While Louisiana is trying to deplete their numbers, Maryland is launching a campaign to rename the scary air-breathers so that people will want to make them part of the menu. A state senator is leading the charge, telling the Washingtonian:

If you can't beat em, eat em.

The name-change strategy has happened before with other species. People all over the country go crazy over Chilean sea bass which was originally known as the Patagonian toothfish. Understandable! Who wants to order toothfish by name?

People in the northeast United States are already enjoying snakehead under its current moniker, but they hope that a fancier name will increase demand. The new name would be Chesapeake channa.

Whatever name it goes by, will Louisiana embrace it as a protein choice? And can we fish it into extinction in Louisiana and the other dozen states the snakehead is now calling home.

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