The diet of snakeheads significantly overlaps that of the largemouth bass, which is a native game fish in Missouri. Potentially, northern snakeheads could compete with commercially and recreationally important fish species through predation and competition for food and habitat in ponds, streams, canals, reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. This can have economic consequences for our state, affecting tourism and fishing.
As with most other invasive species, humans are responsible for moving snakeheads from their native regions, where they have a place in balanced ecosystems, to places where their numbers can grow virtually unchecked. Before 2002, snakeheads were imported as a food fish and for aquarium hobbyists.
In their native regions, snakeheads are a valued food fish. In America — notably in Virginia and Maryland, where snakeheads have become invasively established in the Potomac River — anglers and bow fishers are now encouraged to catch and kill as many snakeheads as they want.
According to the Northern Snakehead Working Group (NSWG) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, northern snakeheads likely arrived in U.S. waters by importation as live food fish. Unauthorized intentional release from this trade continues to be the major mechanism for introduction. The northern snakehead became widely popular in ethnic markets and restaurants over the last two decades, and that species constituted the greatest volume and weight of all live snakehead species imported into our country until 2001.
In some parts of our country, biologists suspect that snakeheads may have been released as a part of a spiritual ceremony traditional to some cultures — apparently, the northern snakehead's resilient nature made it more desirable than carps for ceremonial release.
Snakeheads may also have been intentionally released by people who had kept the fish as pets. Never release aquarium fish, plants, snails, or any other aquarium organisms into natural waters.