BRINKLEY (AGFC) – Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries biologists confirmed a breeding population of northern snakehead, an invasive species from Asia, in Piney Creek system in Lee and Monroe counties in 2008. Despite an eradication program in the area, the AGFC is still getting scattered reports of fishermen catching the invasive species.
Piney Creek flows into Big Creek in Lee County, where it joins the White River to the south. The White then empties into the Mississippi River. Stopping the snakeheads before they move downstream is the goal of the AGFC.
The population was discovered when a farmer found an unusual fish wiggling along a gravel farm road near a ditch. AGFC biologists identified the fish as the invasive species. Since the confirmation, fisheries biologists have worked to establish how far the population has spread and to control the population.
The species was banned in Arkansas in 2002 and placed under a federal importation ban the same year because of its potential to cause problems with native fish. However, biologists believe the species may have been brought to Arkansas before these regulations were passed.
"The northern snakehead is used as a food species in Asia, and we know some were brought to fish farms in the U.S. before 2002," said AGFC Chief of Fisheries Mark Oliver. "Fish farmers in Arkansas realized the potential danger the species posed and tried to eradicate them even before bans were imposed."
Application of a fish-specific to poison many miles of creeks and ditches in east Arkansas was completed in 2009. The massive eradication program killed a great deal of the fish, but not all.
"We can't be sure exactly where this population came from and we just don't know how far they've spread," added Oliver. "Their abilities to live in extremely poor water conditions and reproduce quickly make them a difficult target to completely eliminate."
The largest fear biologists have concerning the species is its impact on native fish such as largemouth bass, bream and crappie. Snakeheads are very aggressive predators, attacking food species as well as fish their own size.
Oliver said that the sooner the AGFC knows about a population of invasive species, the better the chances for controlling their spread.
If you catch a snakehead or find one in your area, please immediately contact the AGFC Regional Office in Brinkley, (877) 734-4581, or the Fisheries Division in the Little Rock Office, (501) 223-6428. Commission regulations prohibit the import, transport or possession of snakeheads in Arkansas, however snakeheads caught may be immediately turned in to the AGFC.