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Snakehead fish caught
in Burnham Harbor    
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[NOV. 6, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- In a joint effort by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Chicago, a team of fisheries biologists conducted electrofishing and net sampling surveys of fish in Burnham Harbor in downtown Chicago, where a northern snakehead was caught by a shore angler on Oct. 9. The sampling was implemented to determine if additional northern snakeheads are present in the harbor. Results from the surveys conducted Oct. 19 and 22 found no additional snakehead fish.

“The possession and release of snakehead fish is prohibited because of the dangers posed to native fish and other aquatic species in Illinois and throughout the U.S.,” said Joel Brunsvold, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “The angler who caught this fish did the right thing by keeping, reporting and providing this fish for analysis.”

In 2002, snakehead fish were added to the list of injurious species in Illinois, banning their importation, possession and release in the state. The threat of the snakehead is significant, given its voracious appetite, the ability to live in or out of water, and its potential for causing damage to native fish and wildlife.

Any angler catching a snakehead is urged to keep the fish and transport it to an office of the Department of Natural Resources or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The public is also asked not to release into the waters of the state any fish, plants or invertebrates that have been purchased or traded as bait, live food, or for aquaria and water gardens.

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The Chicago Department of Environment is asking Chicagoans who possess live snakeheads to call 311, the city's non-emergency number. The city of Chicago will assist residents who are attempting to discard snakeheads they may knowingly or unknowingly possess. Larry Merritt, public information officer for the Chicago Department of Environment, can be contacted at (312) 744-5716.

Anyone with a snakehead fish or anglers who catch a snakehead should immediately contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at (847) 294-4134. Information on aquatic nuisance species can be found on the Illinois Aquatic Nuisance Species website at by clicking there on the “Hot Topics” link.

The chart below provides information for identifying snakehead fish in comparison with common Illinois species.

[Illinois Department of Natural Resources news release]

Reference guide for snakehead versus common Illinois species




American eel

Dorsal fin extends to tail fin Two separate dorsal fins Dorsal fin extends to tail fin Dorsal fin is long and continuous with tail and anal fin
No barbels Single barbel on chin No barbels No barbels
Pectoral and pelvic fins situated close together and near head Pectoral and pelvic fins situated close together and near head Pectoral and pelvic fins set farther apart
Pelvic fins at midbody
No pelvic fins
(pectoral fins only)
No similar markings (except on eyespot snakehead) No similar markings Males and juveniles have prominent marking near tail fin (called an eyespot) No similar markings
Anal fin extends to tail fin Anal fin extends to tail fin Anal fin is short and does NOT extend to tail fin Anal fin continuous with dorsal fin and tail fin
Scales on top of head Very small scales appear embedded No scales on head Very small scales which appear to be absent

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