[Federal Register: October 4, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 193)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 62193-62204]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 62193]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 16

RIN 1018-AI36

Injurious Wildlife Species; Snakeheads (family Channidae)

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adds all species of 
snakehead fishes in the Channidae family to the list of injurious fish, 
mollusks, and crustaceans. By this action, the Service prohibits the 
importation into or transportation between the continental United 
States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto 
Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States. The best 
available information indicates that this action is necessary to 
protect wildlife and wildlife resources from the purposeful or 
accidental introduction and subsequent establishment of snakehead 
populations in ecosystems of the United States. Live snakehead fishes 
or viable eggs can be imported only by permit for scientific, medical, 
educational, or zoological purposes, or without a permit by Federal 
agencies solely for their own use; permits will also be required for 
the interstate transportation of live snakeheads or viable eggs 
currently held in the United States, for scientific, medical, 
educational, or zoological purposes. This final rule becomes effective 
immediately upon publication.

DATES: This rule is effective October 4, 2002.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kari Duncan, Division of Environmental 
Quality, Branch of Invasive Species at (703) 358-2464 or kari--



Summary of Actions Taken and Comments

    The Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule in the July 
26, 2002 (67 FR 48855), Federal Register based upon information we 
obtained indicating that snakehead fishes are injurious to the wildlife 
and wildlife resources of the United States. The proposed rule invited 
comments for 30 days ending August 26, 2002. We received 453 written 
comments during this period. Of those 453 comments, 386 were 
nonrelevant or nonsignificant, one offered editorial suggestions on the 
proposed rule, 32 were opposed to adding snakeheads to the list of 
injurious fishes, and 34 stated their support for the proposed rule. Of 
the 386 nonrelevant or nonsignificant comments, 353 were electronic 
messages that were generated erroneously, 13 were electronic messages 
pertaining to investment scams, 8 were electronic messages pertaining 
to advertising, one comment offered a resume for employment 
opportunities, 2 were unknown, 2 offered suggestions/opinions on 
treating the ponds in Crofton, Maryland, and 7 provided information on 
sightings of snakeheads. Of the 67 comments that were considered 
relevant and significant, one came from a Federal agency, 12 from 
private organizations, 8 from State agencies, and 46 from private 
    We reviewed all comments received for substantive issues and new 
information regarding the injurious nature of snakehead fishes. Similar 
comments were grouped into issues; these issues and our responses to 
each are presented below:
    Issue 1: One respondent stated that some readers may not understand 
that snakeheads are fishes until it's stated later in the proposed 
rule. The respondent suggested clarifying the rule by using the terms 
``snakehead fish'' or ``snakehead fishes'' either early in the rule or 
throughout the rule.
    Response: The Service agrees with the respondent's comments on this 
issue. The suggested changes to improve clarification are used in the 
final rule.
    Issue 2: Twenty-one respondents requested that we not list the 
entire family of snakehead fishes (Channidae) as injurious, but that we 
list those species (up to five species) that are large and cold 
tolerant. The respondents stated that the small, temperature-sensitive 
species used in the aquarium hobby would not pose a threat in most of 
the United States because, if released, they would not survive the cold 
    Response: We acknowledge that five of the 28 species recognized in 
the Channidae family at this time are considered large, approximately 6 
are considered dwarf species, and the remaining species are considered 
medium-size snakehead fishes. As we presented in the proposed rule, the 
family Channidae contains 9 species that are strictly tropical, 4 can 
be considered tropical to subtropical, one is subtropical, 12 can 
tolerate tropical or subtropical to warm temperate conditions, one is 
warm temperate, and one is warm temperate to cold temperate.
    The tropical species would survive in the warmest waters such as 
extreme southern Florida, perhaps parts of southern California, Hawaii, 
and certain thermal spring systems and their outflows in the American 
west. The tropical to subtropical species would have a similar 
potential range of distribution as for tropical species but with a 
greater likelihood of survival during cold winters and more northward 
limits. The tropical or subtropical to warm temperate species could 
survive in most southern States. The warm temperate, and warm temperate 
to cold temperate, species could survive in most areas of the United 
    Although the tropical to subtropical species of snakehead fishes 
are not likely to become established in the northern waters of the 
United States, all of the Channidae species, including the dwarf 
species, are aggressive and highly predatory. Should a species of 
snakehead fishes be accidentally or intentionally released into U.S. 
waters, the 131 taxa of threatened and endangered amphibians, fishes, 
and crustaceans could face additional threats. Additionally, because 
snakehead fishes are morphologically very similar, it would be very 
difficult for biologists, wildlife inspectors at entry ports, and law 
enforcement agents to differentiate among species of snakeheads.
    Based upon the aggressive, predatory nature of all species of 
snakehead fishes, the fact that one or more species could become 
established in most waters of the United States, and the fact that it 
is very difficult to differentiate among the species of snakeheads, the 
Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that all 28 of the currently 
recognized species of snakehead fishes in the Channidae family should 
be listed as injurious fishes under the Lacey Act.
    Issue 3: Six respondents indicated that most hobbyists and fish 
keepers are responsible and know that releasing exotic species into the 
environment is dangerous to the environment. The respondents indicated 
that the responsible hobbyists should not be punished and all species 
of snakehead fishes should not be listed as injurious. Additionally, 
most of these respondents stated that an educational campaign should be 
initiated to explain the hazards of releasing exotic species into the 
environment and encourage the proper disposition of unwanted pets.
    Response: The Service appreciates that most hobbyists and fish 
keepers are responsible and properly dispose of unwanted pets. It is to 
the tremendous credit of hobbyists that snakehead fishes

[[Page 62194]]

have been imported into the United States and only a small number have 
been found in the wild. This rule is not intended to punish hobbyists; 
it is based upon the scientific evidence that indicates that snakehead 
fishes are aggressive and highly predatory and therefore threaten the 
wildlife and wildlife resources of the United States. It is important 
to note that individuals or organizations who possessed snakeheads 
prior to the injurious wildlife listing in States where possession of 
snakeheads is legal will be able to continue to possess them; however, 
they will be prohibited from transporting them across State lines.
    The Fish and Wildlife Service has initiated a national public 
awareness campaign known as Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! This campaign 
targets aquatic recreation users to raise their awareness about the 
growing aquatic invasive species problem and to encourage them to 
become part of the solution in preventing the spread of harmful, 
nonnative species. While aquatic recreation users may not be 
responsible for bringing these species into the country, they may 
inadvertently transport them overland. The Service is working with 
State fish and wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, and the 
fishing and boating industries to address this issue. The campaign has 
a supporting web site with the address: http://
    The Service is considering the development of a new campaign 
similar to Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! that would target aquarium 
hobbyists. This campaign would be conducted in conjunction with the Pet 
Industry Joint Advisory Council, the largest trade association in the 
United States representing the pet industry in Washington, DC, and it 
would focus on raising awareness about aquatic invasive species, and 
encouraging aquarium hobbyists to adopt preventive actions to avoid 
having unwanted aquarium fish and plant species become part of our 
environment. The campaign would be a multi-layered, voluntary effort, 
and would encourage aquarium species importers, wholesalers, retailers 
and consumers to focus on how the aquarium industry is a responsible 
economic sector that collectively values the environment and seeks to 
protect it while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of the aquarium 
    Issue 4: Two respondents stated that they are opposed to the 
injurious wildlife listing because snakehead fishes are valuable food 
    Response: The Service recognizes the value of snakehead fishes as a 
food source, just as we recognize their value to hobbyists. However, as 
stated above, the decision to list the Channidae family of snakehead 
fishes is based upon scientific data on the hazards that these fishes 
would present to the wildlife and wildlife resources of the United 
States. Dead or frozen snakehead fishes can continue to be imported and 
transported as an alternative to importing live snakeheads.
    Issue 5: Two respondents stated that they consider the injurious 
wildlife listing of snakehead fishes to be racist against the Asian 
American community because it would prohibit the use of a valuable food 
source and protect the sport activity of European Americans. 
Additionally, the respondents indicated that the Service should consult 
with the Asian American community and that we should consider 
snakeheads as an economic resource and not a threat.
    Response: The decision to list snakehead fishes as injurious under 
the Lacey Act is based solely on the biological characteristics of the 
fishes and the need to protect our native wildlife and wildlife 
resources, and is in no way based upon race or ethnicity, or preserving 
recreational opportunities for certain sectors of the population. We 
have substantial scientific data that describe the harm that snakehead 
fishes cause when introduced outside of their native range and are 
likely to cause if released into U.S. waters.
    According to our Law Enforcement data, 372 individuals and 892 
kilograms of snakehead fishes were imported into the United States in 
1997; 1,488 individuals and 1,883 kilograms were imported in 1998; 
6,044 individuals and 8,512 kilograms were imported in 1999; 8,650 
individuals and 9,240 kilograms were imported in 2000; and 20,547 
individuals were imported in 2001. We do not have information on how 
many of those imports contained young fishes destined for the aquarium 
trade and how many were larger individuals destined to be sold as live 
food fish. While the importations did increase between 1997 and 2001, 
the importation of snakehead fishes into the contiguous United States 
does not appear to represent a significant portion of live fish 
imports. We suggest that all persons who previously used live 
snakeheads as a food fish consider the use of dead or frozen fish as an 
    Issue 6: Two respondents indicated that the proposed listing of 
snakehead fishes was based more on hype than fact, and is an 
overreaction to media attention.
    Response: As a result of the discovery of the bullseye snakeheads 
in south Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Service began 
evaluating the risks associated with snakehead fishes in 2001. 
Consequently, the injurious wildlife listing was being developed within 
the Service before the recent media attention.
    Outside of what is published in our official press releases, the 
Service has no control over what is published in the media. We agree 
that some of the facts have been exaggerated, and we have taken 
measures to correct misinformation that has appeared in the media.
    Issue 7: Thirteen respondents stated that snakehead fishes threaten 
ecological harmony, present major risks to ecosystems and aquatic 
communities, and could eliminate some of our threatened and endangered 
species that are restricted in distribution. The respondents also 
stated that the United States has a well-documented history of adverse 
consequences to native species due to the introduction of other 
nonnative species.
    Response: The Service agrees with the respondents' comments on 
these issues. The biological characteristics of snakehead fishes and 
their potential to be injurious to the wildlife and wildlife resources 
of the United States is the basis for our decision to add snakeheads to 
the list of injurious fishes under the Lacey Act.
    Issue 8: Two respondents stated that the fines are too lenient 
compared to the potential ecological devastation caused by the 
potential establishment of snakeheads.
    Response: The Secretary of the Interior has the authority under the 
Lacey Act to add species to the injurious wildlife list, but the 
Secretary does not have the authority to change the penalties. The 
penalties are established by statute and can be changed by an act of 
    Issue 9: Three respondents stated that the prohibition on 
importation and interstate transportation of snakehead fishes would not 
significantly impact the aquarium industry. They also stated that the 
humane disposition of snakeheads will be encouraged.
    Response: The Service is pleased that this action will not result 
in significant financial losses to aquarium fish producers, 
wholesalers, and retailers. We are also encouraged that the respondents 
are willing to proactively promote the humane disposal of the fishes, 
thereby reducing the risk that they would be introduced into the 
    Issue 10: Three respondents stated that they are opposed to listing 
the family Channidae by simply referring to ``Channidae'' because the 
taxonomy is not clear and not all people are

[[Page 62195]]

conversant with scientific names. The respondents suggested we revise 
50 CFR 16.13 to resemble a list instead of a paragraph, and that we 
include the genus, species, and common names of all currently 
recognized snakehead species, as well as the family name.
    Response: We have accepted this suggestion and made the changes in 
this rule. We have also included synonyms for the Channa and Parachanna 
    Issue 11: One respondent expressed concern that permits for 
importation and interstate transportation can be issued for medical 
purposes under the Lacey Act. The respondent indicated that permits 
should be granted only to accredited medical institutions.
    Response: As described in 50 CFR 16.22, the Director of the Fish 
and Wildlife Service may issue permits for the importation and 
interstate transportation of injurious species only for scientific, 
medical, educational, or zoological purposes. Persons or institutions 
wishing to apply for a permit must meet the application requirements, 
additional permit conditions, and issuance criteria as set forth in 50 
CFR 16.22. Permits are issued only to legitimate individuals and/or 
institutions for medical research, scientific, zoological, or 
educational purposes.

Description of the Final Rule

    The regulations contained in 50 CFR part 16 implement the Lacey Act 
(18 U.S.C. 42) as amended. Under the terms of that law, the Secretary 
of the Interior is authorized to prohibit by regulation certain 
activities involving wild mammals, wild birds, fish (including mollusks 
and crustaceans), amphibians, reptiles, and the offspring or eggs of 
any of the foregoing that are injurious to human beings, to the 
interests of agriculture, horticulture, or forestry, or to the wildlife 
or wildlife resources of the United States. The lists of injurious 
wildlife species are at 50 CFR 16.11 to 16.15. By adding snakehead 
fishes to the list of injurious wildlife, their importation into, and 
transportation between, States, the District of Columbia, the 
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the 
United States by any means whatsoever is prohibited, except by permit 
for zoological, educational, medical, or scientific purposes (in 
accordance with permit regulations at 50 CFR 16.22), or by Federal 
agencies without a permit solely for their own use, upon filing a 
written declaration with the District Director of Customs and the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service Inspector at the port of entry. No live 
snakehead fish, progeny thereof, or viable eggs imported or transported 
under a permit may be sold, donated, traded, loaned, or transferred to 
any other person or institution unless such person or institution has a 
permit issued by the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 
The interstate transportation of any live snakehead fish or viable eggs 
currently held in the United States for any purpose is prohibited 
without a permit.


    Two genera of snakehead fishes are currently recognized in the 
family Channidae. They are Channa (snakehead fishes of Asia, Malaysia, 
and Indonesia) and Parachanna (African snakeheads). Synonyms include 
Bostrychoides, Ophicephalus and its misspelled form Ophiocephalus, and 
Parophiocephalus. Although 86 species and 4 subspecies have been 
described (Eschmeyer, 1998), current taxonomy is in flux with 
approximately 28 species recognized as valid (Musikasinthorn, 2001; 
Table 1). Because their morphology is very similar, it is very 
difficult to differentiate among species of snakeheads. Juvenile and 
adult color patterns are often quite different (Day, 1875; Lee and Ng, 
1991, 1994), and some are quite variable in size and color, and may 
represent species complexes. A taxonomic revision of the family, 
expected to be published within the next two years, will likely result 
in additional species being recognized as valid and perhaps new species 

  Table 1.--Currently Recognized Species of the Family Channidae (After
                      Musikasinthorn, 2000, 2001).

Channa amphibeus (McClelland, 1845)--no common name known.
Channa argus (Cantor, 1842)--northern snakehead.
Channa asiatica (Linnaeus, 1758)--Chinese snakehead.
Channa aurantimaculata Musikasinthorn, 2000--no English common name;
 naga-cheng (Assam, India).
Channa bankanensis (Bleeker, 1852)--Bangka snakehead.
Channa baramensis (Steindachner, 1901)--Baram snakehead.
Channa barca (Hamilton, 1822)--barca snakehead.
Channa bleheri Vierke, 1991--rainbow snakehead.
Channa cyanospilos (Bleeker, 1853)--bluespotted snakehead.
Channa gachua (Hamilton, 1822)--dwarf snakehead.
Channa harcourtbutleri (Annandale, 1918)--Inle snakehead.
Channa lucius (Cuvier, 1831)--splendid snakehead.
Channa maculata (Lacepede, 1802)--blotched snakehead.
Channa marulius (Hamilton, 1822)--bullseye snakehead.
Channa maruloides (Bleeker, 1851)--emperor snakehead.
Channa melanoptera (Bleeker, 1855)--no common name known.
Channa melasoma (Bleeker, 1851)--black snakehead.
Channa micropeltes (Cuvier, 1831)--giant snakehead.
Channa nox (Zhang, Musikasinthorn, and Watanabe, 2002)--no English
 common name.
Channa orientalis Schneider, 1801--Ceylon snakehead.
Channa panaw Musikasinthorn, 1998--no English common name; ng panaw
Channa pleurophthalmus (Bleeker, 1851)--ocellated snakehead.
Channa punctata (Bloch, 1793)--spotted snakehead.
Channa stewartii (Playfair, 1867)--golden snakehead.
Channa striata (Bloch, 1797)--chevron snakehead.
Parachanna africana (Steindachner, 1879)--Niger snakehead.
Parachanna insignis (Sauvage, 1884)--Congo snakehead.
Parachanna obscura (Gunther, 1861)--African snakehead.

    Snakehead fishes have distinctive morphological features as 
follows: Long, almost cylindrical body; long dorsal and anal fins, and 
all fins supported only by rays; most with large scales on head, 
somewhat similar to the large epidermal scales on the heads of snakes 
(hence the common name, snakeheads); eyes dorsolateral (back and side) 
and located on the anterior portion of the head; tubular, anterior 
nostrils; pectoral and caudal fin margins rounded; large mouth with 
protruding lower jaw; lower jaw always toothed, and prevomer and 
palatines often toothed; some lower jaw teeth canine-like, and canines 
present or absent on prevomer and palatines; most species with pelvic 
fins present; and ventral aorta typically divided into two portions, 
one serving the gills and the other the suprabranchial (above the 
gills) chambers. Suprabranchial chambers of Channa are non-labyrinthic 
(complex system of paths/tunnels), and made up of two plates, one 
formed by the first epibranchial (above the gills), the second from the 
hyomandibular; those of Parachanna consist of a single cavity with 
elements from the epibranchial of the first gill arch and hyomandibular 

[[Page 62196]]

    Two larger snakehead species, Channa marulius and C. maruloides, 
superficially resemble the native bowfin, Amia calva, in that all three 
are elongated fishes, have long dorsal fins, tubular nostrils, and an 
ocellus (eyespot) at the base of the upper portion of the caudal fin. 
The bowfin, however, has its pelvic fins in a more abdominal rather 
than thoracic or anterior-abdominal position, and the anal fin is not 
elongated. Moreover, the bowfin does not have a rosette (circular 
arrangement) of enlarged scales on top of the head.
    Species and species complexes of the genus Channa are native from 
southeastern Iran and eastern Afghanistan eastward through Pakistan, 
India, southern Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, 
Malaysia, Sumatra, Indonesia, and China northward into Siberia. Of the 
currently recognized 25 species of Channa, 9 species and 
representatives of 4 species complexes occur in peninsular Malaysia, 
Sumatra, and/or Indonesia. Of the same 25 species, 16 species and 
members of 5 species complexes are tropical to subtropical; members of 
three species complexes are temperate; and one species is temperate to 
boreal and can live beneath ice in the northern portion of its range. 
The three species of Parachanna are native to Africa and are tropical.
    Snakeheads are considered as non-ostariophysan primary freshwater 
fishes (Mirza, 1975, 1995), meaning they have little or no tolerance 
for seawater. Habitat preferences vary by species or species complex, 
with a majority occurring in streams and rivers. Others occur in 
swamps, rice paddies, ponds, and ditches. All can tolerate hypoxic (low 
oxygen) conditions because they are airbreathers from late juvenile 
stages. Where known, pH range varies by species with one (Channa 
bankanensis) preferring highly acidic (pH 2.8-3.8) waters. At least 
three species are tolerant of a wide pH range; C. gachua, C. punctata, 
and C. striata survived for 72 hours at pH levels ranging from 4.25 to 
9.4 (Varma, 1979).
    Spawning seasons vary by species. While information on reproductive 
biology of many species is lacking, several conclusions can be drawn 
from those for which this information is available. Breeding in several 
species occurs primarily in summer months (June through August), and in 
at least two (the Channa striata species complex and C. punctata), 
breeding pairs can be found throughout the year. Some species spawn 
twice each year. Okada (1960) reported that female northern snakeheads, 
C. argus, are capable of spawning five times per year. There are 
several reports that when snakeheads pair, the pair remains monogamous 
for a spawning season, perhaps longer, but a pair may not mate for 
    Snakehead fishes build nests by clearing a generally circular area 
in aquatic vegetation, often weaving the removed vegetation around the 
centrally cleared area. This results in a vertical column of water 
surrounded by vegetation. One species (C. punctata) prepares elaborate 
tunnels through vegetation leading into the nest column. At time of 
spawning, the male and female move upward into the central region of 
the nest column. The male entwines his body around that of the female, 
with some species appearing to ``dance'' in the water column as eggs 
are released and fertilized (Breder and Rosen, 1966; Ng and Lim, 1990). 
Eggs are buoyant, rising to the surface of the nest column, where they 
are vigorously guarded by one or both parents. Snakeheads in two 
species complexes (C. gachua and C. orientalis) are mouthbrooders, with 
the male being the mouthbrooder of fertilized eggs and, later, fry. 
Most snakehead fishes, however, are not mouthbrooders, but one or both 
parents guard their young vigorously; one species (C. micropeltes) 
reportedly attacked and in some instances killed humans who approached 
the mass of young (Kottelat, 1993). Thus, parental care, whether by 
mouthbrooding or guarding, is a behavioral characteristic of snakehead 
fishes. Successful spawning in the absence of vegetation has also been 
reported for three species of snakeheads (Parameswaran and Murgesan, 
    Fecundity and early development: There is limited information on 
fecundity (capacity to produce offspring) except for those snakehead 
fishes of commercial importance. Nevertheless, that information shows a 
pattern that likely applies to the entire family Channidae. Smaller 
species, such as Channa gachua and C. orientalis, produce few 
o[ouml]cytes or unfertilized ``eggs'' (about 20 when sexual maturity is 
first reached and later up to 200; Lee and Ng, 1991, 1994). Both are 
considered to be ``species complexes'' and one or both ``species'' 
contain mouthbrooding adults; low fecundity is a general rule among 
mouthbrooding fishes (Breder and Rosen, 1966). Fecundity increases 
greatly in larger snakehead species and appears to follow increasing 
body length. For example, Quayyum and Quasim (1962) recorded fecundity 
ranging from 2,300 to 26,000 o[ouml]cytes for C. striata, increasing in 
number with increasing body length. The bullseye snakehead, C. 
marulius, the largest species of snakehead, has been reported to 
produce approximately 40,000 o[ouml]cytes (Jhingran, 1984). Frank 
(1970) reported that the northern snakehead, C. argus, produced 
approximately 50,000 o[ouml]cytes. Frank's data came from Nikol'skiy 
(1956) who recorded fecundity of 22,000 to 51,000 in northern snakehead 
from the Amur basin. Dukravets and Machulin (1978) gave fecundity rates 
of 28,600 to a high of 115,000 for northern snakehead (probably from 
Yangtze River stock) introduced to the Syr Dar'ya basin of 
Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan. They also noted that, although the growth of 
northern snakehead is slower than that reported for this species from 
the Amur basin, growth rates from both stocks become equal once sexual 
maturity is reached.
    O[ouml]cytes, when released from the female parent, are small, 
ranging from approximately 1 mm to slightly over 2 mm in diameter, 
depending on species. Fertilization takes place by the male releasing 
milt (sperm) on the o[ouml]cytes (or eggs) as they emerge from the 
female. Eggs contain an oil droplet within the yolk mass, which causes 
them to rise to the surface. Development time to hatching varies with 
water temperature and, to a lesser extent, with the species involved. 
For example, hatching occurred in 54 hours at 16-26[deg]C and 30 hours 
at 28-33[deg]C in Channa punctata (Khan, 1924). In the northern 
snakehead, C. argus, eggs hatch in 28 hours at 31[deg]C, 45 hours at 
25[deg]C, and 120 hours at 18[deg]C.
    Early life history: In general, newly hatched fry, depending on 
species, are about 3.0--3.5 mm in length. Following yolk absorption, 
snakehead fry begin feeding on zooplankton. Fry typically remain 
together until they reach early juvenile stage, guarded by one or both 
adults, or until they can fend for themselves (Lee and Ng, 1994). Late 
juveniles of the giant snakehead, Channa micropeltes, school and feed 
in packs (Lee and Ng, 1991). Although there are few reports of early 
life history except for species of commercial importance, it appears 
that, as larval snakeheads mature to early juvenile stages, the diet 
changes to small crustaceans and insects, particularly insect larvae. 
Presence of phytoplankton, plant material, and detritus in the 
digestive system of young snakeheads, as well as adults, appears to 
occur from incidental ingestion.
    Respiration and overland migrations: Snakeheads are highly evolved 
airbreathing teleostean (bony) fishes, and many are capable of overland 
migration by wriggling motions (Lee and

[[Page 62197]]

Ng, 1991; Berra, 2001). They possess suprabranchial (above the gills) 
chambers for aerial respiration, and the ventral aorta is divided into 
two portions to permit bimodal (aquatic and aerial) respiration (Das 
and Saxena, 1956; Graham, 1997). The suprabranchial chambers become 
functional during the juvenile stage of growth (Graham, 1997), 
following which some species of snakehead fishes are obligate (limited, 
bound to a restricted environment) and others are facultative 
(optional, ability to live under varied conditions) airbreathers. In 
Channa, the chambers open into the pharynx through inhalent openings. 
The chamber lining contains respiratory ``islets'' with vascular 
papillae. The chambers can be filled with air or water. In addition, in 
C. striata, there are also vascular structures in the mouth and pharynx 
that can be utilized for respiration; these, however, can be retracted 
into depressions to prevent damage when feeding (Munshi and Hughes, 
    Some channids, perhaps all, have a circadian rhythm in oxygen 
uptake. Channa marulius, for example, showed a peak in oxygen uptake at 
night. C. striata and C. gachua peaked in early night hours, and C. 
punctata at dusk (Munshi and Hughes, 1992). Munshi and Hughes (1992) 
attributed these rhythms to evolution in swamp ecosystems (i.e., the 
rhythm is a property of the ecosystem).
    It is unknown how many species of snakehead fishes are capable of 
overland migrations, but several are known to do so. These migrations 
from drying habitats in search of those with water are probably driven 
by instinctive behavior. Overland migrations likely apply to those 
species whose native range is subject to seasonal dry/wet (or 
monsoonal) conditions (encompassing much of western to southeastern 
Asia, where a majority of snakehead species exist).
    Hypoxic survival: Snakehead fishes are either obligate or 
facultative airbreathers. Therefore, survival in hypoxic waters is not 
problematic to these fishes. When prevented from access to the surface, 
some adult snakeheads will drown due to lack of oxygen (Day, 1868, Lee 
and Ng, 1991). Moreover, snakeheads can remain out of water for 
considerable periods of time as long as they remain moist. Some 
snakeheads, especially Channa striata, can bury themselves in mud 
during times of drought (Smith, 1965). They are known to secrete mucus 
that helps to reduce desiccation and facilitates cutaneous breathing 
(Mittal and Banerji, 1975; Lee and Ng, 1991).
    Fishers in Thailand are aware of this habit and, during drought 
periods, will slice into the mud until they locate the fish (Smith, 
    For larger species of snakeheads such as Channa marulius, young are 
facultative airbreathers and adults are obligate breathers (Wee, 1982), 
but all species are airbreathers.
    Lifespan: No specific information on lifespan can be found in the 
literature. Nevertheless, one species (C. marulius) is reported to 
reach a total length of 1.8 meters in Maharashtra State, India (Talwar 
and Jhingran, 1992), indicating a relatively long lifespan. Smaller 
snakeheads, such as members of the C. gachua and C. orientalis species 
complexes, may not live for more than a few years. Most larger 
snakeheads are reported to reach sexual maturity in two years, after 
which growth slows but fecundity increases with increasing size.
    Feeding habits: There are few studies of feeding habits of 
snakeheads. For those species studied, following yolk-sac absorption, 
snakehead fry feed mostly on zooplankton. As juveniles, they feed on 
insect larvae, small crustaceans, and fry of other fishes (Munshi and 
Hughes, 1992). What is universal in reports of adult feeding habits is 
that snakeheads are predators with many species showing a preference 
for other fishes, although they may also consume crustaceans, frogs, 
smaller reptiles, and larger species may sometimes consume birds and 
small mammals. Under conditions of food deprivation, snakeheads can 
become cannibalistic on their own young. The piscivorous (fish-eating) 
nature of snakeheads has led to the use of some species (C. striata and 
C. micropeltes in particular) to control tilapia populations in 
    Associated diseases and parasites: Investigations of diseases and 
parasites of snakeheads concentrate on those species of importance in 
aquaculture. Bykhovskaya-Pavlovskaya et al. (1964) cited Channa argus 
as hosting 18 parasite species (Table 2). Two of the same parasites 
listed by Bykhovskaya-Pavlovskaya et al. (1964) were reported from the 
digestive tracts of northern snakehead from Kyungpook Province, Korea, 
from 115 specimens collected between 1995 and 1997. The trematode 
Azygia hwangtsinyi was found in 47% of the samples and the nematode 
Pingis sinensis in 73%.

                      Table 2.--Parasites of northern snakehead, Channa argus (Adapted From Bykhovskaya-Pavolovskaya et al. (1964)
                Parasite                                Group                             Host issues                      Other fishes affected
Myxidium ophiocephali..................  Myxosporidia.......................  Gall bladder, liver ducts.........
Zschokkella ophiocephalli..............  Myxosporidia.......................  Kidney tubules....................
Neomyxobolus ophiocephalus.............  Myxosporidia.......................  Gill filaments....................
Mysosoma acuta.........................  Myxosporidia.......................  Gill filaments....................  crucian carp.
Myxobolus cheisini.....................   Myxosporidia......................  Gill filaments....................
Henneguya zschokkei?...................   Myxosporidia......................  Gills, subcutaneous, musculature..  salmonids (tubercle disease of
Henneguya ophiocephali.................  Myxosporidia.......................  Gill arches, suprabranchial
Henneguya vovki........................  Myxosporidia.......................  Body cavity.......................
Thelohanellus catlae...................  Myxosporidia.......................  Kidneys...........................
Gyrodactylus ophiocephali..............  Monogenoidea.......................  Fins..............................
Polyonchobothrium ophiocephalina.......  Cestoidea..........................  Intestine.........................
Cysticercus Gryporhynchus                Cestoidea..........................  Gallbladder, intestine............  cyprinids, perches.
Azygia hwangtsi[uuml]i.................  Trematoda..........................  Intestine.........................
Clinostomum complanatum................  Trematoda..........................  Body cavity.......................  perches.
Pingis sinensis........................  Nematoda...........................  Intestine.........................
Paracanthocephalus curtus..............  Acanthocephala.....................  Intestine.........................  cyprinids, esocids, sleepers, bagrid

[[Page 62198]]

Paracanthocephalus tenuirostris........  Acanthocephala.....................  Intestine.........................
Lamproglena chinensis..................  Copepoda...........................  Gills.............................

    Literature on parasites of snakeheads includes numerous 
descriptions of new species, not detailed herein, but indicates that 
most studies concentrate on cultured fishes such as Channa argus, C. 
punctata, and C. striata. The potential threat of these parasites to 
native North American fishes has yet to be examined.
    A disease that received broad attention is epizootic ulcerative 
syndrome (EUS) that causes high mortality in snakeheads, particularly 
Channa striata and C. punctata under intensive culture. EUS involves 
several pathogens, including motile aeromonad bacteria (e.g., Aeromonas 
hydrophila, A. caviae, Pseudomonas fluorescens; Prasad et al., 1998; 
Qureshi et al., 1999), a fungus Aphanomyces invadans (considered a 
primary pathogen; Mohan et al., 1999; Miles et al., 2001), and perhaps 
a rhabdovirus (Kanchanakhan et al., 1999; Lio-Po et al., 2000). Another 
bacterium, Aquaspirillum sp., has also been implicated in the disease 
(Lio-Po et al., 1998). EUS may have originated in India in the 1980s, 
but has since been found in Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines 
with outbreaks reported from all these areas during the 1990s. 
Snakeheads are not the only fishes affected by this disease. It is also 
known to occur in airbreathing catfish (Clarias), the bagrid catfish 
genus Mystus, two cyprinid genera (Cyprinus and Puntius), mastacembalid 
eels (Mastacembalus), and the nandid genus Nandus in India (Mukherjee, 
1998). In Thailand, it has been found in giant gourami (Osphronemus 
gouramy) and climbing perch (Anabas testudineus) during an outbreak in 
1996-1997 (Kanchanakhan et al., 1999).
    History of introduction in the United States: Four species of 
snakeheads (Channa argus, C. marulius, C. micropeltes, and C. striata) 
have been recorded from open waters of the United States (California, 
Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island), and 
two have become established as reproducing populations. At least 16 
States prohibit possession of live snakeheads (Alabama, Arkansas, 
California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, 
Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and 
Washington), and illegal activity, confiscations, citations, or 
investigations have occurred in six of those States within the past two 
years (Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Texas, and Washington).
    Florida: An established population of the bullseye snakehead, 
Channa marulius, was discovered in residential lakes and adjoining 
canals in Tamarac, Broward County, Florida, in 2001 (Florida Fish and 
Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2001). It is unknown how long this 
species has occupied these waters, perhaps several years, but both 
juveniles and adults have been collected, which indicates reproductive 
success. This species is the largest of snakeheads, with adults 
commonly reaching lengths of 120-122 cm (Talwar and Jhingran, 1992). 
Researchers have reported that in Maharashtra State, India, this 
species can reach a length of 1.8 m and a weight of 30 kg (Talwar and 
Jhingran, 1992). A length of 30 cm can be reached in one year (Talwar 
and Jhingran, 1992). The pathway of the introduction to Florida is 
unknown. The species may have escaped from a fish farm (although there 
are none known in Tamarac), been purposefully introduced to establish a 
food or aquarium fish resource, or they may have been introduced by 
aquarists. Tamarac is located just east of Water Conservation Area II, 
north of Everglades National Park, and interconnected canal systems 
lead into this area. Nevertheless, there are water control structures 
on canals leading into Water Conservation Area II that would have to be 
open to allow this snakehead access to that area. It is likely that C. 
marulius will expand its range in peninsular Florida as its native 
range includes tropical to temperate climates. The bullseye snakehead 
is considered predacious (Jhingran, 1984; Talwar and Jhingran, 1992), 
especially on other fishes (Schmidt, 2001).
    The northern snakehead, Channa argus, is also reported from Florida 
waters. Two individuals were caught in the St. Johns River below Lake 
Harney, Seminole and Volusia counties, in 2000. Unconfirmed reports 
indicate three additional individuals having been caught nearby. An 
attempt to collect additional specimens by U.S. Geological Survey 
(USGS) personnel by electroshocking was unsuccessful, but will be 
repeated in 2002. Until reproduction has been confirmed, the species is 
considered present but not established. This species is not involved in 
the aquarium fish trade, but is sold in live food fish markets as a 
food fish. The most likely pathway is introduction of live food fish, 
perhaps to establish a local source. The northern snakehead is sold in 
live food fish markets and some restaurants in Boston and New York, 
where snakeheads are legal. Live C. argus were confiscated in 
Washington (100 individuals, alive on ice, destined for the 
international district of Seattle), a market in Houston, Texas (Howells 
et al., 2002), markets in Miami and Plantation, southeastern Florida, 
in 2001, and in Orlando, Florida, in March 2002, all indications of the 
availability of this species in States where possession is illegal. 
Moreover, a few U.S. aquarium fish retailers sell snakeheads via the 
Internet. USGS scientists purchased three species from a reputable 
dealer in Rhode Island, who first requested a copy of the State permit 
that allowed USGS to possess the fish in Florida. Private purchases can 
also be made through several Internet ``chat rooms'' where possession 
of permits is not discussed.
    California: California Department of Fish and Game personnel 
collected a snakehead while electrofishing in a reservoir, Silverwood 
Lake, in 1997. Silverwood Lake is in the Mohave River drainage, east-
northeast of Los Angeles and north of San Bernardino in the San 
Bernardino Mountains. The specimen was subsequently frozen and later 
discarded (Camm Swift, pers. comm.). It was identified as Channa argus 
(John Sunada, pers. comm. to W.R. Courtenay, Jr.). It is believed that 
the fish got in the lake from the California Aqueduct that runs from 
the San Joaquin River south of Stockton into Lake Silverwood, one of 
several reservoirs that serves Los Angeles.
    Hawaii: The chevron snakehead, (Channa striata) has been 
established on Oahu, Hawaii, since the late 1800s and was introduced 
from southern China (Herre, 1924). For whatever reasons, it does not 
appear to have been introduced to other waters of Hawaii and is 
confined to reservoirs on Oahu (Maciolek, 1984). In addition, the

[[Page 62199]]

species is now being cultured as a food fish on Oahu. This species is 
regarded as carnivorous with a preference for other fishes (Moshin and 
Ambak, 1983; Conlu, 1986). Lee and Ng (1991) described it as a 
territorial ambush feeder. It is also used to control tilapia 
populations in the Philippines (Conlu, 1986).
    Maryland: Two adults and eight juveniles of Channa argus were found 
in a pond in Crofton, Anne Arundel County, Maryland in late June and 
early July 2002. Maryland Department of Natural Resources personnel 
captured over 100 juveniles from the pond in July 2002. The adults are 
known to have over-wintered in the pond. The fish were purchased from a 
live food fish market in New York City, transported to Maryland, and 
kept in an aquarium, and two fish were released into the pond in 2000. 
This species appears to be the most common snakehead available in food 
markets and restaurants as a live food fish.
    New England States: A specimen of the northern snakehead, Channa 
argus, was collected in October 2001 from Newton Pond, Sudbury, 
Worcester County, Massachusetts, by Massachusetts Department of Fish 
and Wildlife personnel. The likely source is from live food fish 
markets. It is capable of establishment in most fresh waters of the 
United States. Okada (1960) reported adults as voracious feeders, 
particularly on other fishes.
    Specimens of the giant snakehead, Channa micropeltes, have been 
collected from open waters in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island 
(Courtenay et al, 1984; Fuller et al., 1999). This tropical/subtropical 
species could not become established in those temperate waters. 
Juveniles of the species are cardinal red with two dark stripes on 
either side of the body, and sold by aquarium fish retailers as red or 
redline snakeheads. Aquarist-oriented web sites note that this species 
requires much animal food and that growth is rapid. These sites often 
advise that, once these fish reach approximately 15-20 cm in length, no 
more than one individual should be kept in a single aquarium because 
they are aggressive predators. The pathway into these New England 
States was likely aquarists who released their ``pets'' when they grew 
too large for their aquaria and/or because it was too costly to feed 
them. Releases of this species into subtropical waters in southern 
Florida or Hawaii could lead to establishment of this snakehead, 
regarded as the most predaceous channid and known to have attacked 
humans (Ng and Lim, 1990; Lee and Ng, 1991; Kottelat et al., 1993).
    Uses: According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement 
data, 16,554 individuals or 20,527 kilograms of all species of 
snakeheads were imported into the United States between 1997 and 2000 
at a declared value of $85,425 (records of imports report numbers of 
individual fish OR weight in kilograms). Importations of snakeheads 
into the United States do not appear to represent a significant portion 
of live fish imports at present. However, from the raw data, it is 
clear that the trend has been upward in recent years.
    Snakeheads have been imported into the United States for two 
purposes: as aquarium fish and for use as food. In Southeast Asia, 
particularly in Thailand and Malaysia, and to a lesser extent in Japan, 
there are developing recreational fisheries for the larger snakehead 
species (see http://www.fishingasia.com as an example).
    Several species of snakeheads are listed on aquarium fish websites. 
Some of these entries are for information purposes and a few others 
list fish for sale. The most popular species are, in order of 
importance and availability: Channa micropeltes, juveniles sold as red 
or redline snakehead; C. marulius, juveniles sold as cobra snakehead; 
C. bleheri, sold as rainbow snakehead; C. barca sold as barca or tiger 
snakehead; C. gachua sold under a variety of names; and Parachanna 
africana, juveniles sold as African snakehead. Some are cultured and 
others are captured from the wild. Rarely does one see listings for C. 
asiatica, C. orientalis, C. pleuropthalma, C. punctata, or C. 
stewartii. This is somewhat surprising because several are attractive 
aquarium fishes, and they can be purchased from dealers in southeast 
Asia via the Internet. Channa bleheri, C. gachua, and C. orientalis are 
small snakeheads, unlike C. micropeltes and C. marulius that grow 
quickly to large sizes. All but the smallest snakeheads are unsuitable 
for community tanks, and even they may kill other fishes in aquaria. 
Larger snakeheads require very large aquaria and must be kept alone. 
The number of aquarium hobbyists interested in keeping snakeheads 
appears to be small, and snakeheads represent a minor component in the 
aquarium fish industry (Marshall Myers, pers. comm. to J.D. Williams).
    Conversely, use of snakeheads as food fishes is growing in the 
United States (Table 3). Live snakeheads of the larger species can be 
purchased in live food fish markets and in some restaurants in States 
where these fishes are not prohibited, but they are also appearing in 
markets in States where possession is prohibited (Howells et al., 
2002). Some restaurants display live snakeheads in aquaria, a common 
practice where these fishes are native, allowing customers to choose a 
fish to be prepared for a meal. This is reminiscent of many U.S. 
seafood restaurants where one can select a lobster to be cooked from an 
    During FY 1999, the USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program 
funded a Phase II project to the Hawaii Fish Company of Waialua, 
Hawaii, to develop commercial culture of the chevron snakehead, Channa 
striata. It is now being cultured in Hawaii as a food fish.

Table 3.--Species of the Family Channidae Currently Known To Be Cultured
                   for Food and/or Aquarium Fish Trade

Channa argus[hairsp][hairsp]**
Channa marulius
Channa punctata
Parachanna africana
Channa maculatus
Channa micropeltes[hairsp][hairsp]***
Channa striata[hairsp][hairsp]*
Parachanna obscura
* Species most widely cultured for food. Also being cultured in Hawaii.
** Second most important species cultured for food.
*** Appears to be the most important species cultured for the aquarium
  fish trade.

    Although several snakehead species may be found for sale alive in 
live food fish markets, the most available species is the northern 
snakehead, Channa argus. It is being sold in Boston and New York City, 
where snakeheads are legal. Through confiscation by State fish and game 
personnel in 2001, it has also been found in the live food fish trade 
of three States (Florida, Texas, and Washington) where possession of 
snakeheads is prohibited. The northern snakehead is able to tolerate a 
considerable temperature range, from warm temperate to boreal climates, 
where this species can live under ice. Additionally, its airbreathing 
capabilities enhance its transport and marketing. Marketing and 
customer preferences, however, are not synonymous. For example, persons 
of southeastern Asian descent prefer chevron snakehead, C. striata, 
above any other species. It is currently being cultured in much of 
southeastern Asia, the Philippines, and Hawaii.
    Potential Range: Temperature is the most important environmental 
factor that would determine potential range of snakeheads in the United 
States. Because there are few data providing thermal tolerance ranges 
for snakeheads, potential range must be inferred from

[[Page 62200]]

distribution within native ranges. The family Channidae contains nine 
species that are strictly tropical, and if introduced, would survive in 
the warmest waters such as extreme southern Florida, perhaps parts of 
southern California, Hawaii, and certain thermal spring systems and 
their outflows in the American west. Another four can be considered 
tropical to subtropical, indicating a similar potential range of 
distribution as for tropical species but with a greater likelihood of 
survival during cold winters and more northward limits. One is 
subtropical. Another 12 (4 of which appear to be species complexes) 
snakeheads can tolerate tropical or subtropical to warm temperate 
conditions, indicative of species that could survive in most southern 
States. One is warm temperate, and another warm temperate to cold 
temperate (Channa argus with a temperature range of 0-30 
    In summary, there are few waters in the United States or 
territories of the United States that, based on temperature, would 
preclude some member(s) of the family Channidae from becoming 

Factors That Contribute to Injuriousness

    The likelihood of release or escape of snakeheads is high. One 
species, Channa striata, was released and became established in waters 
of Oahu, Hawaii, before 1900. It was likely introduced as a food fish. 
A second species, Channa marulius, is a recent introduction to 
southeastern Florida (Broward County) and has also become established. 
The pathway for this introduction was release of either food or 
aquarium fish. Two specimens of Channa argus were caught in the St. 
Johns River near Sanford, Florida, and three more are believed to have 
been caught at or near the same location. This species is available 
only through live food fish markets. The same species was captured from 
a pond in central Massachusetts in October 2001. The snakehead captured 
in Lake Silverwood, California, was also C. argus. Two adults and eight 
juveniles of C. argus were collected from a pond in Crofton, Maryland, 
in June and July 2002. Individual specimens of Channa micropeltes were 
caught in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in past years, the 
source of which were most likely aquarium fish releases. The 
availability of 8 species of snakehead fishes in live food fish markets 
and the aquarium trade raises the probability that one or more species 
will be released into open water. As demonstrated by the documented 
discoveries of both aquarium and food fish species of snakeheads in the 
wild, there is a high likelihood that snakeheads would escape or be 
    If snakeheads escaped, or were released into the wild, the 
likelihood that they would survive and/or become established with or 
without reproduction is dependent upon the species of snakehead 
involved and the location of the release. The family Channidae contains 
9 species that are strictly tropical, 4 can be considered tropical to 
subtropical, one is subtropical, 12 can tolerate tropical or 
subtropical to warm temperate conditions, one is warm temperate, and 
one is warm temperate to cold temperate. The tropical species would 
survive in the warmest waters such as extreme southern Florida, perhaps 
parts of southern California, Hawaii, and certain thermal spring 
systems and their outflows in the American west. The tropical to 
subtropical species would have a similar potential range of 
distribution as for tropical species but with a greater likelihood of 
survival during cold winters and more northward limits. The tropical or 
subtropical to warm temperate species could survive in most southern 
States. The warm temperate, and warm temperate to cold temperate, 
species could survive in most areas of the United States.
    That Channa striata, a tropical to warm temperate species cultured 
for the live food trade, has been established for over a century in 
Hawaii and, more recently, C. marulius, a tropical to warm temperate 
species cultured for the aquarium trade, has become established as a 
reproducing population in southeastern Florida is indicative of the 
likelihood of survival and potential for establishment of snakehead 
fishes. Although C. striata is largely confined to reservoirs on Oahu, 
C. marulius has ample opportunity to expand its range in southeastern 
Florida through the large network of interconnected canals and Water 
Conservation Areas to the west of the metropolitan areas. The release 
of live food or aquarium fishes is a viable pathway for introduction of 
snakehead fishes and, depending on temperature, many species could 
become established from Florida to or above the U.S.-Canadian border 
and in many territories of the United States.
    The likelihood and magnitude of spread would be high for all 
species within their thermal limits. Both the northern snakehead, 
Channa argus, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the blotched snakehead, 
C. maculata, expanded their ranges of distribution from sites of 
initial introduction in Japan. Since introduction of the northern 
snakehead into the Aral Sea basin in the 1960s, there has been a 
dramatic range expansion in waters of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and 
Uzbekistan. Range expansion also occurred in the Philippines following 
introduction of the chevron snakehead, C. striata.
    Although there is limited information on the fecundity of 
snakeheads, scientific data indicate that fecundity increases greatly 
in larger snakeheads and follows increasing body length. According to 
Quayyum and Quasim (1962), fecundity for C. striata, a medium-sized 
snakehead species, ranges from 2,300 to 26,000 [ouml]cytes. Larger 
species, such as C. marulius and C. argus can produce 40,000 to 50,000 
[ouml]cytes. Given that two individual northern snakeheads, C. argus, 
were reportedly released into the pond in Crofton, Maryland, and 
successfully reproduced two times in the summer of 2002, and that 
several species of snakeheads are known to have a high fecundity, there 
is a high likelihood that snakeheads would be capable of spreading 
within their thermal limits.
    Several species of snakeheads, whose native ranges are subject to 
seasonal dry/wet conditions, are known to be capable of overland 
migrations. According to Peter Ng (pers. comm. to W.R. Courtenay, Jr.) 
some species can crawl sinuously on land, even dry land, from point to 
point. There are 2 main groups of snakeheads that are slow, but 
effective and directed, at overland migrations. One group, including C. 
striata, C. micropeltes, C. asiatica and C. gachua, has a more dorso-
ventrally flattened body with a somewhat flatter belly and can crawl on 
land. The second group, including C. argus, C. maculata and C. lucius, 
has a more laterally compressed or rounded body and is not as 
successful at overland migrations. For those species that are not 
capable of overland migration, there is a high likelihood that they can 
be transferred to other water bodies through flooding if they are 
released into flood-prone areas. In summary, there are few waters in 
the United States or territories of the United States that, based on 
temperature, would preclude some member(s) of the family Channidae from 
becoming established and expanding their ranges through reproduction 
and/or overland migration.
    At all life stages, snakeheads will compete for food with native 
species. As discussed above in the Biology section, snakehead fry feed 
on zooplankton; juveniles feed on insect larvae, small crustaceans, and 
fry of other fishes; and

[[Page 62201]]

adults are predators, feeding on other fishes, crustaceans, frogs, 
smaller reptiles (snakes, lizards), and sometimes birds (particularly 
young waterfowl) and mammals. Native fish and wildlife populations that 
prey upon fishes, crustaceans, frogs, snakes, lizards, and young 
waterfowl would face reductions resulting from the loss of food 
    Although the literature on snakeheads does not include specific 
information on feeding habits of every species, what is universal for 
those species that have been studied in this respect is that fishes are 
an important component of snakehead diets. This can range, for example, 
from approximately 20-30% (e.g., Channa gachua) of the diet to well 
over 90% (e.g., C. argus, C. micropeltes, C. striata). Next in line to 
fishes, crustaceans (particularly shrimp, etc.) form a substantial 
dietary component for snakeheads. Native fish populations in particular 
would likely be reduced through predation if snakeheads were introduced 
and became established in bodies of water. Through predation, ecosystem 
balance and predator-prey relationships could be modified drastically 
should snakeheads become established in waters with low diversity of 
native fishes and low abundance or absence of native predatory species. 
Therefore, the likelihood and magnitude of adverse impacts on native 
wildlife through competition for food and predation on native wildlife 
is high.
    While the potential for snakeheads to transfer pathogens to native 
wildlife is largely unknown, all snakehead species examined are host to 
at least several species of parasites. At least two snakehead species, 
Channa punctata and C. striata, are susceptible to epizootic ulcerative 
syndrome (EUS), a disease believed to be caused by several species of 
bacteria, a fungus, and perhaps a retrovirus, under intensive culture 
conditions. EUS is not specific to snakeheads and has affected other 
fishes, such as clariid catfishes, bagrid catfishes, two cyprinid 
genera, mastacembalid eels, and a nandid fish in India; in Thailand, it 
has been found in giant gourami and climbing perch. Although there have 
been no studies undertaken to examine transfer of parasites or diseases 
from snakeheads to native North American fishes, there are numerous 
cases documented in the scientific literature where nonnative species 
have transferred diseases and pathogens to native species. Several of 
the parasites of northern snakeheads listed in Table 2 are known to 
affect salmonids, cyprinids, and percids. Therefore, there is a 
credible evidence on the potential for snakeheads to transfer pathogens 
to native fishes.
    Due to the highly predatory nature of snakeheads, the likelihood 
and magnitude of effect on threatened and endangered species is high. 
Of all the taxa listed as endangered or threatened in U.S. aquatic 
habitats, 16 amphibians, 115 fishes, and 5 of the 21 crustaceans (the 
surface-dwelling crayfish and shrimp) would be the most likely to be 
affected. Based on habitat requirements and life history, fishes are 
more likely to be affected by introduced snakeheads than amphibians and 
the surface-dwelling crustaceans. Nonetheless, the possibility of an 
additional nonindigenous predator in the aquatic community with any 
listed amphibian or crustacean would constitute a threat.
    In the western United States, habitat requirements of listed fishes 
range from steep-gradient, coldwater mountain streams, lower-gradient 
large desert rivers, to thermal (warm) springs in desert areas. Eastern 
fishes likewise occupy a variety of habitats, including springs, 
creeks, large rivers, and the Great Lakes. One or more species of 
snakeheads would be capable of living in any of the above habitats. 
Since all snakehead species prey on fish, to a greater or lesser 
extent, all of the fishes listed as endangered or threatened would be 
vulnerable to predation at some stage in their life history. The degree 
of threat would vary from extremely high for any species of snakeheads 
introduced in relatively small, isolated habitats, such as desert 
thermal springs and their outflows in the American southwest, to 
somewhat less in steep-gradient coldwater mountain streams. Based on 
the food habits and habitat preferences of snakeheads, it is likely to 
invade the habitat, feed on, and further threaten Federally listed 
freshwater fishes. Snakeheads are likely to also further threaten 
candidates for Federal protection.
    The likelihood that one or more species may be placed in danger of 
extinction or become endangered within the foreseeable future as a 
result of introduction/establishment is high. The introduction of a 
small number of individuals (<5) into isolated spring habitats could 
result in the extinction of endemic spring-adapted fishes or 
crustaceans. The snakeheads would not have to establish a reproducing 
population to reduce or eliminate a fish or crustacean species confined 
to a small section of a stream or isolated spring habitat. Any 
snakehead that becomes established in a water body would represent a 
significant threat and could potentially push any listed amphibian, 
fish, or crustacean to extinction.
    The likelihood and magnitude of ancillary wildlife resource damage 
due to control measures is high. Chemical control using rotenone or 
other similar toxins that work by preventing fish from removing oxygen 
from the water would likely be damaging to nontarget native organisms.
    Only one species of snakehead, Channa micropeltes, a tropical/
subtropical species, is reported to have attacked human beings. There 
have been reports of human deaths as a result. All such incidents 
apparently happened when humans approached a nest or group of young, 
and attacks were perpetrated by guarding adults. However, the 
likelihood and magnitude of direct impacts on human beings is low.

Factors That Reduce or Remove Injuriousness

    The ability to eradicate or control snakehead populations depends 
on where they are found. However, there is no known method of removing 
all snakeheads following introduction. If established in large lakes or 
river systems, eradication and/or control are expected to be nearly 
impossible, and snakeheads would likely become permanent members of the 
fish community. Control in smaller water bodies depends upon the amount 
of vegetation, the accessibility to the water body, and the 
effectiveness of the control methods. Piscicides work by preventing 
fish from removing oxygen from the water. Chemical control using 
rotenone and similar toxins would likely be ineffective to airbreathing 
snakeheads and damaging to nontarget organisms except in closed 
situations. Electrofishing and netting may provide some level of 
control of snakehead populations; however, eradication using these 
methods would be too selective on size classes to remove a population 
of snakeheads. When a population is discovered, it is typically too 
late for removal unless the population is isolated.
    Since effective measures to eradicate, manage, or control the 
spread of snakeheads once they are established are not currently 
available, the ability to rehabilitate or recover ecosystems disturbed 
by the species is low. Re-establishment of extirpated populations of 
native amphibians, fishes, and crustaceans, if biologically possible, 
would be labor and cost intensive and would depend on eradication of 
snakeheads within those habitats.


    Because several species of snakehead fishes are available through 

[[Page 62202]]

aquarium, restaurant, and the live food fish trades, the likelihood 
that they would escape or be intentionally released into the wild is 
high. If they escape or are intentionally released, they are likely to 
survive or become established within their respective thermal limits. 
Because there are no known limiting factors, because some species have 
the ability to move across land, and because snakeheads have a fairly 
high reproductive potential, they are likely to spread once they are in 
the wild. Snakeheads fishes are likely to compete with native species 
for food, may transmit parasites to native species, and are likely to 
feed on native species, which will negatively affect native fishes, 
amphibians, crustaceans, birds, small reptiles, and small mammals. The 
air-breathing and mobile characteristics of snakeheads increase the 
difficulty in preventing, eradicating, managing, or controlling their 
spread. Because the successful removal of all individual snakeheads 
from a water body would be very difficult to accomplish, it will be 
very difficult rehabilitate or recover ecosystems disturbed by 
snakeheads. In conclusion, for the reasons stated above, the Service 
finds snakeheads to be injurious to the wildlife and wildlife resources 
of the United States.

Effective Date

    We are making this rule effective upon publication. In accordance 
with the Administrative Procedure Act, we find good cause as required 
by 5 U.S.C. 553 (d)(3) to make this rule effective less than 30 days 
after publication in the Federal Register. Approximately 2.94 times 
more snakeheads were imported in July 2002 than in July 2001. 
Inspectors at ports of entry have noticed an increase in interest in 
importing snakeheads before the final rule becomes effective; some 
importers have told inspectors that they are trying to ``beat the ban'' 
and import as many snakeheads as possible before the prohibition on 
importation and interstate transportation is imposed. Because we have 
already documented a nearly three-fold increase in the importation of 
snakeheads from one year ago, and because of the increased interest in 
importing snakeheads before the final rule becomes effective, the 
Service believes that there will be a substantial and significant 
increase in the numbers of snakehead fishes imported and transported 
across State lines if this rule is effective 30 days after publication 
in the Federal Register. The increases in importations and interstate 
transportations during that 30-day period could result in a significant 
potential for damage to the wildlife and wildlife resources of the 
United States. As discussed previously in the preamble to this rule, 
snakehead fishes are highly predatory, are difficult to control, and 
are difficult to differentiate among species. Therefore, we believe 
that we have sufficient evidence and cause to take immediate action to 
prohibit further importation and interstate movement of the entire 
Channidae family of snakehead fishes.

Required Determinations

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule contains information collection activity for special use 
permits. The Fish and Wildlife Service has approval from OMB to collect 
information under OMB control number 1018-0093. This approval expires 
March 31, 2004. The Service may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is 
not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it 
displays a currently valid OMB control number.

Regulatory Planning and Review

    In accordance with the criteria in Executive Order 12866, the 
Office of Management and Budget has determined that this rule is not a 
significant regulatory action.
    (a) This rule will not have an annual economic effect of $100 
million or adversely affect an economic sector, productivity, jobs, the 
environment, or other units of the government. A cost-benefit and 
economic analysis is not required.
    The net economic effect of prohibiting the importation and 
interstate transportation of snakeheads is difficult to determine 
because of the minimal amount of data available for a relatively new 
species to the aquarium, live fish markets, and restaurant trades. 
There is a trade-off between damage avoided by not letting snakeheads 
get into U.S. water bodies and the economic benefits received by fish 
markets and aquarium owners who want to own the species. Since only 
$85,000 worth of snakeheads were imported during the four-year period 
between 1997 and 2000, and the potential damage by snakeheads if they 
get into U.S. waters would be in the millions of dollars from the loss 
of native species, including threatened and endangered species, this 
rule will have a net positive benefit. The dollar amount of imported 
and traded value is not the net economic value of this fish, but the 
relatively small value compared to environmental damage avoided by 
prohibiting these species is convincing that this rule will not have a 
major negative economic effect.
    (b) This rule will not create inconsistencies with other agencies. 
This rule pertains only to regulations promulgated by the Fish and 
Wildlife Service under the Lacey Act. No other agencies are involved in 
these regulations.
    (c) This rule will not materially affect entitlements, grants, user 
fees, loan programs, or the rights or obligations of their recipients. 
This rule does not affect entitlement programs. This rule is aimed at 
regulating the importation and movement of nonindigenous species that 
have the potential to cause significant economic and other impacts on 
natural resources.
    (d) This rule does not raise novel legal or policy issues. No 
previous listings of wildlife as injurious have raised legal or policy 

Regulatory Flexibility Act and SBREFA

    This rule will not have a significant economic effect on a 
substantial number of small entities as defined under the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.). A Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis is not required. Accordingly, a Small Entity Compliance Guide 
is not required. The rule is not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), 
the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. This rule will 
not have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more, and 
does not have significant adverse effects on competition, employment, 
investment productivity, innovation, or the ability of U.S.-based 
enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises.
    No individual small industry within the United States will be 
significantly affected if snakehead importation and interstate 
transport are prohibited. Live food fish markets, restaurants, and 
aquarium hobbyists are the entities most likely to be affected by this 
rule. The number of aquarium hobbyists interested in keeping snakeheads 
appears to be small, and snakeheads represent a minor component in the 
aquarium fish industry (Marshall Myers, pers. comm.. to J.D. Williams). 
With only 16,554 individual snakeheads imported over four years and 
most of these going to markets and restaurants for human consumption, 
the number of entities engaging in selling and buying these fish is 
very small. There is no recreational fishery for these species. The 
number of entities involved in the trade of these species is not known, 
but it is assumed to be very small because of the small number of these 
fish imported. This rulemaking will have the indirect effect of 
protecting native fishes, amphibians, and crustaceans from the 
intentional or accidental

[[Page 62203]]

introduction of snakeheads into U.S. water bodies. The snakeheads would 
likely devastate many native wildlife populations if introduced into a 
waterway. It is very unlikely that this rulemaking will affect a 
substantial number of small entities and those entities affected will 
not be significantly affected because of the very small numbers of 
these fish imported. This rulemaking, by protecting the environment 
from the spread of a nonnative species that would devastate native 
fishes, amphibians, and crustaceans, will indirectly work to sustain 
the economic benefits enjoyed by numerous small establishments engaged 
in the recreational fishing industry, among others.
    This rule will not cause a major increase in costs or prices for 
consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local government 
agencies, or geographic regions. This rulemaking will not affect costs 
or prices for any fish species other than snakeheads. Once this rule is 
published, and importation and interstate movement are prohibited, the 
maximum loss would be approximately $22,000 per year to the few 
entities that deal in these species.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.), the rule will not ``significantly or uniquely'' affect small 
governments. A Small Government Agency Plan is not required. The 
Service has determined and certifies pursuant to the Unfunded Mandates 
Reform Act that this rulemaking will not impose a cost of $100 million 
or more in any given year on local or State governments or private 
entities; will not produce a Federal mandate of $100 million or greater 
in any year and therefore, is not a ``significant regulatory action''.


    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the rule does not have 
significant takings implications. A takings implication assessment is 
not required. This rule will not impose significant requirements or 
limitations on private property use.


    In accordance with Executive Order 13132, the rule does not have 
significant Federalism effects. A Federalism assessment is not 
required. This rule will not have substantial direct effects on States, 
in the relationship between the Federal Government and the States, or 
on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various 
levels of government. Therefore, in accordance with Executive Order 
13132, we determine that this rule does not have sufficient Federalism 
implications to warrant the preparation of a Federalism Assessment.

Civil Justice Reform

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988, the Office of the 
Solicitor has determined that the rule does not unduly burden the 
judicial system and meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) 
of the Executive Order. The rule has been reviewed to eliminate 
drafting errors and ambiguity, was written to minimize litigation, 
provides a clear legal standard for affected conduct rather than a 
general standard, and promotes simplification and burden reduction.


    We have reviewed this rule in accordance with the criteria of the 
National Environmental Policy Act and our Departmental Manual in 516 
DM. This rule does not constitute a major Federal action significantly 
affecting the quality of the human environment. Since only 16,554 
snakehead fishes were imported between 1997 and 2000 for a declared 
value of $85,000, the maximum annual loss to the few entities that deal 
in these species is estimated to be $22,000. Therefore, an 
environmental impact statement/assessment is not required. The action 
is categorically excluded under the Department's NEPA procedures (516 
DM 2, Appendix 1.10), which apply to policies, directives, regulations, 
and guidelines of an administrative, legal, technical, or procedural 
nature; or the environmental effects of which are too broad, 
speculative, or conjectural to lend themselves to meaningful analysis 
and will be subject later to the NEPA process, either collectively or 
on a case-by-case basis.

Tribal Consultation

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, and 512 DM 2, we 
have evaluated potential effects on Federally recognized Indian tribes 
and have determined that there are no potential effects. This rule 
involves the importation and interstate movement of live snakeheads. We 
are unaware of trade in these species by Tribes.

Effects on Energy

    On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on 
regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and 
use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. Because this rule is 
intended to prevent the accidental or intentional introduction of 
snakeheads and the possible subsequent establishment of populations of 
these fish in the wild, it is not a significant regulatory action under 
Executive Order 12866 and is not expected to affect energy supplies, 
distribution, and use. Therefore, this action is a not a significant 
energy action and no Statement of Energy Effects is required.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this rule is available 
upon request from the Division of Environmental Quality (see FOR 


    The Fish and Wildlife Service is issuing this final rule under the 
authority of the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 16

    Fish, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, 
Transportation, Wildlife.

    For the reasons discussed in the preamble, we amend part 16, 
subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations 
as set forth below.


    1. The authority citation for part 16 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 18 U.S.C. 42.

    2. Amend Sec.  16.13 by revising paragraph (a)(2) to read as 

Sec.  16.13  Importation of live or dead fish, mollusks, and 
crustaceans, or their eggs.

    (a) * * *
    (2) The importation, transportation, or acquisition of any of the 
species listed in this paragraph is prohibited except as provided under 
the terms and conditions set forth in Sec.  16.22:
    (i) Live fish or viable eggs of walking catfish, family Clariidae;
    (ii) Live mitten crabs, genus Eriocheir, or their viable eggs;
    (iii) Live mollusks, veligers, or viable eggs of zebra mussels, 
genus Dreissena; and
    (iv) Any live fish or viable eggs of snakehead fishes of the genera 
Channa and Parachanna (or their generic synonyms of Bostrychoides, 
Ophicephalus, Ophiocephalus, and Parophiocephalus) of the Family 
Channidae, including but not limited to:

[[Page 62204]]

    (A) Channa amphibeus (Chel or Borna snakehead).
    (B) Channa argus (Northern or Amur snakehead).
    (C) Channa asiatica (Chinese or Northern Green snakehead).
    (D) Channa aurantimaculata.
    (E) Channa bankanensis (Bangka snakehead).
    (F) Channa baramensis (Baram snakehead).
    (G) Channa barca (barca or tiger snakehead).
    (H) Channa bleheri (rainbow or jewel snakehead).
    (I) Channa cyanospilos (bluespotted snakehead).
    (J) Channa gachua (dwarf, gaucha, or frog snakehead).
    (K) Channa harcourtbutleri (Inle snakehead).
    (L) Channa lucius (shiny or splendid snakehead).
    (M) Channa maculata (blotched snakehead).
    (N) Channa marulius (bullseye, murrel, Indian, great, or cobra 
    (O) Channa maruloides (emperor snakehead).
    (P) Channa melanoptera.
    (Q) Channa melasoma (black snakehead).
    (R) Channa micropeltes (giant, red, or redline snakehead).
    (S) Channa nox.
    (T) Channa orientalis (Ceylon or Ceylonese Green snakehead).
    (U) Channa panaw.
    (V) Channa pleurophthalmus (ocellated, spotted, or eyespot 
    (W) Channa punctata (dotted or spotted snakehead).
    (X) Channa stewartii (golden snakehead).
    (Y) Channa striata (chevron or striped snakehead).
    (Z) Parachanna africana (Niger or African snakehead).
    (AA) Parachanna insignis (Congo, square-spotted African or light 
African snakehead).
    (BB) Parachanna obscura (dark African, dusky, or square-spotted 
* * * * *

    Dated: September 26, 2002.
Paul Hoffman,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 02-25337 Filed 10-3-02; 8:45 am]