While Wellington’s welcoming climate and atmosphere have been a huge lure to permanent and temporary residents since before there was a Village of Wellington, a new resident has recently moved into the area — and this one certainly isn’t welcome.
An exotic fish called a snakehead, originally from Southeast Asia, is the latest invasive species to show up in the community. It is now reported to be inhabiting Lake Wellington and seems to like the waters just fine.
Long known in this country in Maryland, a few years ago the species showed up in South Florida in the Broward County area. The fish, with an appearance that makes it obvious how it got its name, has moved north into the western communities.
Growing to several feet or more in length, its sharp teeth, aggressive behavior and voracious appetite makes it poised to become the dominant species in areas it inhabits, zealously outcompeting native fish.
Jeff Browning lives on Lake Wellington. He purchased there because he enjoys fishing, and he does so frequently. He said that he spotted the snakeheads over the last year and a half, and that they are becoming extremely plentiful, but simultaneously depleting the bass catches, which have gone way down since the snakeheads showed up.
Browning said that he recently caught a seven-pound example that was nearly two-feet long. He said the snakeheads are easy to catch but put up a nice fight. He remarked that he has caught a lot of them using rubber frogs and worms.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little that can be done to get rid of the unwanted invasive snakeheads.
“I have heard of people eradicating them by poisoning a whole lake, which is certainly negative to the native species,” Browning said.
In some places, Browning said they shock the lake with electricity, and when all the fish float to the surface, stunned, they remove the exotics, but there’s really not much one can do with a body of water the size of Lake Wellington.
Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes agreed there’s not much that can be done.
“We have seen them in the canals and waterways, but this is the first I’m hearing of them in Lake Wellington, which is a public waterway, so we follow what the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission does,” he said.
In some canals in the village, where it was possible, Barnes said the FWC has harvested the snakeheads.
“They are similar to other exotics, where people have released them, and they thrive and reproduce,” Barnes said. “They then crowd and choke out the native species. People released these exotic animals, and without natural predators, their number balloons pretty quickly.”
Barnes said he would reach out to environmental agencies to find out the extent of the invasion.
“They have lots of people over at the agencies who are smarter than me, who work on ways of combating these exotics,” Barnes said. “We will do what they tell us they are doing in the other waterways.”
On the brighter side, Barnes said some anglers enjoy catching the fish now that it’s here, and that in Southeast Asia, people eat the fish.
Some residents may worry about fingers and toes in the water with these aggressive toothy predators, but they are not known to attack people, even when they attain great size.
Barnes remarked that it is not a concern, as no swimming is allowed in Lake Wellington. “It is a boating-only lake, with no motorized craft,” Barnes said. “It is not the local swimming hole.”