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ANNAPOLIS Md. (Reuters) - Maryland officials are hoping that the prospect of landing a record fish will enlist anglers in the battle against the northern snakehead, a voracious newcomer dubbed "Frankenfish."
The invasive snakehead, which can breathe air and travel short distances over land, has spread throughout much of the Potomac River basin in Virginia and Maryland in the last decade, snapping up anything in front of it.
The new program to be formally announced next week sets official records for snakeheads caught in Maryland waters. The first state record was a 16.78-pound (7.61-kg) snakehead set on June 1.
That record was broken two hours later by a snakehead weighing 16.94 pounds (7.68 kg). Both fishermen will receive award plaques.
"Snakeheads are thriving," said Joe Evans, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
"We've been encouraging people to catch them, keep them and eat them since they are a non-native species that has a capacity to affect the local fish population."
There are enough of the fish in the region to support the annual Potomac Snakehead Tournament, where some anglers call the fish Potomac pike. The world record fish was caught in a Potomac tributary in Virginia and weighed 17.6 pounds (7.98 kg).
Native to China, Russia and Korea, the snakehead has no natural predators in the United States. It got its start in the Potomac through releases from aquariums and the live fish trade.
It can out-compete native fish for food and damage commercial fishing industries.
Evans said the snakehead had expanded out of the Potomac and into rivers on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
"The population is stabilizing a bit and I think the anglers are part of that," he said.
Other efforts to curb the population boom include putting snakehead on area menus. The snakehead is a delicacy in Chinese and Korean cuisine.
Reporting by John Clarke; Editing by Ian Simpson and Sandra Maler