The snakehead is an invasive species to the US, originating in China and Korean waters. The fish was first spotted in a Maryland pond in 2002 and has since been prolific in the Potomac River since. The problem? They have no natural predators and are a big threat to native species. The first introduction to that Maryland pond was due to a man who bought the fish in NYC for his sister to eat, and when she refused, he released it in the local pond. Following the discovery of the fish the local authorities poisoned the pond, turning up six established adult and over 1,000 baby snakeheads.
Since the 2002 incident the possession and distribution of live snakeheads has been made illegal. This still hasn’t stopped one LA supermarket from selling $25,000 worth of live snakeheads or a Brooklyn fish importer from bringing in 350 live specimens in 2011 and six more shipments dating back to 2010, pawning them off as another species. The spread of the snakehead has recently reached Delaware as well as certain areas of Philadelphia. In an effort to eradicate more snakeheads fishing contests have been held in the Potomac waters. Even more badass? People are hunting them with bow and arrow. One Dutch Baldwin of Indian Head, MD managed to slay 26 by bow.
So what to do with it? Eat it, of course. In Asian cultures the fish is commonly consumed, many times in soups. Touted for its clean, non-fishy taste, U.S. cooks are starting to bring it in their kitchens as well. In 2011 the Maryland government issued regulations for the commercial sale of the fish for consumption and mounted a marketing campaign to help promote the catching, killing, and subsequent consumption of the snakehead. Chef Chad Wells, a former Starfish Brasserie guest chef, runs things at Alewife in Baltimore and decided to start serving it up at his beer-mecca of a restaurant.
It should be no surprise then that Starfish Brasserie in Bethlehem decided to jump at the chance to serve up this nasty creature. Constantly promoting not only sustainable and local cuisine, owner Kris Sandholm also serves up environmentally damaging invasive species, like lionfish, in an effort to be more eco-friendly. Chef Sandholm says he’ll be serving up an unagi-inspired sushi dish. As unagi eel is currently on the sustainable seafood advisory list, snakeheads make an environmentally-conscious substitute. Sandholm received 18 lbs. from sustainable food purveyor Profish and will be dishing it out for free this evening.
Sandholm said that by providing free samples of invasive species like snakehead he hopes to raise awareness of the fish and in turn get more chefs and people using it. With more people using it demand from fisherman will increase, populations of snakeheads in our waterways will decrease, and ecosystems will return to normal. So stop by tonight, try some snakehead, then grab a drink and dinner.
[Ed. note: We here at the El Vee are extremely appreciative of this practice and our good friends at Starfish’s continued dedication to ecologically sound and sustainable practices. So many restaurants are touting local and sustainable food these days simply because they’re buzzwords and not because they care about the environment.]
Pic courtesy of the Maryland DNR