The dictionary definition of “invasive” includes words like aggressive, hostile, war-like, and disturbing. Those terms certainly fit when describing the invasive species currently attacking the Chesapeake Bay, including such species as northern snakeheads, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. As we’ve pointed out before, there are certain advantages to having these species swimming in our waterways and they have created some interesting fishing opportunities for anglers up and down the Bay’s tributaries. But on the whole, there’s no doubt that the Bay and its related fisheries would be better off if these foreign fish had never entered our waterways in the first place. Once the cat is out of the bag, however…

blue catfish invasive species
Has this big feller eaten any baby rockfish today? You can help fisheries managers find out. Photo courtesy of Gary O. Lengerhuis

While we certainly can’t hope to eradicate any of these species, we do need to begin to take their presence into account as we manage our fisheries and our waterways. What are these fish eating, and what impact is it having on other populations? How many of them are found in any given place? How do their populations shift and move? There have been a handful of scientific studies performed on snakeheads and blue cats, but they’re mostly limited to specific waterways and timeframes. The most complete answers to the above questions are that the data is limited, and we don’t really know.

You and I, fellow Chesapeake angler, have just become empowered to help improve that data. All you have to do is enter yourself into the Coastal Conservation Association’s Great Chesapeake Invasives Count “research tournament,” and… GO FISHING! (Awwww, shucks). Added bonus: chip in this tiny bit of time and effort to download an app and keep track of your catch, you could be rewarded with some seriously cool prizes. Here’s how it works: download iAngler onto your phone, register for the Count, and then when you catch a blue cat, flathead, or snakehead, snap off a pic on a ruler and submit the catch and location. If you’re willing, also gut the fish and take a picture of the stomach contents. Both pictures qualify as a “submission,” which earns you one ticket. All the tickets go into a hat, and every other week the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland (CCA-MD) draws winning tickets to award some lucky anglers with prizes. Plus, CCA members who participate qualify for additional prizes. Note: though there’s an “MD” in the name, CCA-MD cares about and serves every square inch of the entire Chesapeake Bay and Virginian anglers — who certainly feel the impact of these invasive species — are wholeheartedly invited to join in.

cca maryland invasive fishing tournament
Join in the tournament for free, and win cool fishing prizes!

The goodies being given away are a motivating factor, for sure. But the real reason we fishermen should jump at the chance to participate in the Count is because it allows us to act to improve our own fisheries. The data that gets collected through the Count will be shared with fisheries managers and agencies including the DNR, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies. The effort level on our parts is minimal to say the least, and in the long run the more data we can collect the better off we will all be.

Anyone who’s read FishTalk for a while knows that we’re big proponents of CCA-MD and the work they do. Now, we all have a chance to help out with very little effort and zero cost, while winning some cool prizes along the way. In fact, it’s beyond us how any self-respecting angler who might be targeting these species anyway could choose not to participate. Added bonus: it’s just one more good reason to get out there and go fishing.