Sounds like something from a sci-fi movie doesn't it? Well, it's kinda like that actually… Invasive species are plants or animals that have been introduced, whether accidentally or on purpose, into a place where they did not naturally evolve. They become "invasive" when they have no natural predators in this new environment, creating an unnatural imbalance in the local ecology. They cause enormous harm by encroaching on the food or habitat of natives, over-establishing themselves at their expense. Dealing with them is a big problem since once an invasive is well established it can be almost impossible to eradicate!
The Chesapeake suffers from some particularly troubling invasives —like the Northern Snakehead, a long fish with a mottled, snake-like pattern and lots of teeth. Native to China, they were first discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland in 2000. Now they have spread to the Potomac River, its tributaries, and the Rappahannock River. In Maryland and Virginia, anglers that catch the fish are required to kill it.
Another nasty is the Blue Catfish; native to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins where it evolved naturally and was not considered invasive. It was artificially introduced in Virginia for sport fishing in the 1970s. Turns out that Blue Cats, with few natural predators in our region, are devouring important natives like shad, menhaden, blue crab and river herring. They can grow to 100 pounds and live up to 20 years! Luckily, the Blue Cat is also delicious, and inspiring efforts like the Wide Net Project are making some real headway against this critter by reconsidering it as an easily harvestable species.
We talk a lot about the Blue Catfish in our Blue Catfish Catties* Chesapeake Bites. Scroll to the end for the Blue Catfish Catties recipe and watch the full video here: https://youtu.be/wnYZavo7dIM
The Zebra Mussel is a tiny bivalve with zebra-like stripes and a triangular shell. It was introduced to the Great Lakes region in the 1980s, most likely from ballast water from a European ship, and has since spread throughout the United States. The Zebra Mussel attaches itself to hard surfaces and can produce millions of offspring annually, competing with native bivalves, fish and invertebrates for plankton. They are responsible for the drastic decline of native clam, mussel and oyster populations in many areas of the Chesapeake.
And here's a relatively new one you may not have heard of—The Chinese Mitten Crab, a light brown crustacean with a distinctive pair of hairy, white-tipped claws. Native to East Asia, it has recently been discovered here in the Chesapeake. This guy damages fishing nets and equipment and feeds on fish in the nets. It's other destructive habit of burrowing into soft sediment banks, dykes and costal protection systems results in the serious erosion of vulnerable areas.
Huge efforts are underway by our local governments and community organizations to combat these dangerous invasives but is there anything that we can do? Well, some simple precautionary actions can have a big impact on our Bay. Taking the time to clean the hull of your boat and your gear after each and every trip can help protect the waters from aquatic hitchhikers. Keeping bait, and especially aquarium species, out of storm drains and waterways is also important. We all need to take care and do our part to protect the Bay.
Blue Catfish Catties Recipe:
1 pound dried salt catfish (see note)
2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
3 eggs, beaten
3tbsp grain mustard
2 tbsp melted butter or olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
4 tbsp minced chives
1/3cup finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Oil for fryingSaltine crackers, for serving
Yellow mustard of your choosing, for serving
1 Soak the salt catfish in a bowl of cold water for 6 hours, changing the water approximately every 2 hours. When ready to prepare the recipe, place the salt catfish in a pan and cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and break up the fish into flakes with a fork. Cool.
2 Cook the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, drain, and mash well. Let the potatoes cool.
3 Heat the oil or butter in a pan and gently saute the onion for 5 minutes, taking care not to brown. Place the catfish and potatoes into a bowl and mix them together with the additional ingredients. Form the catties into small balls and flatten to about 1⁄2-inch thick. (cont.)
4 Pour oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about 11/2 inches. Heat the oil and fry the catties a few at a time, until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain. The catties can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
5 Serve on crackers with mustard on the side. Note: To make the salt-catfish, place a layer of kosher salt (about 1⁄2-inch deep) in the bottom of a large Pyrex dish. Lay out a single layer of catfish and completely cover the catfish with kosher salt. Wrap the tray with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for 48 hours. Remove fish from salt and rinse lightly with cold water. Dry the filets very well. Refrigerate until ready to make the catties.
*This video originally aired in Chesapeake Farm and Bay to Table which was produced in partnership with Harford County Public Library.