Kill on sight: Invasive species of fish spotted in Missouri for the first time since 2019

Kill on sight: Invasive species of fish spotted in Missouri for the first time since 2019

PUXICO, Mo. – Missouri conservation officials are issuing a warning – an invasive species of fish has been recorded in the state.

If seen, Missouri officials warn anglers and hobbyists to kill the northern snakehead on sight.

Fisheries management biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation have confirmed a northern snakehead was captured by an angler on May 19 while seining for bait at the Duck Creek Conservation Area in southeast Missouri.

This is the second northern snakehead ever spotted in the state and the first since 2019.

MDC staff said the northern snakehead is an aggressive, invasive species native to Asia. The species is known as a predator that will prey on native species and will compete for resources.

“Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before we saw this species continue to spread in Missouri,” said MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Dave Knuth.

If spotted, the MDC recommends immediately killing the fish by severing the head or gutting it. This fish is an airbreather and can live a considerable time out of the water.

Conservation officials then ask that you photograph the fish and report sightings to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5858.

The markings on the fish may vary, however, they’re generally tan with dark brown mottling. Their jaws contain many small teeth.

Missouri Department of Conservation
Missouri Department of Conservation

“This fish has a wide temperature tolerance, can spawn multiple times in one year, and can survive in low-oxygenated waters by breathing air,” said Knuth. “The impacts of this species on native fish populations are still to be determined, and it’s something we will have to follow over time.”

Officials spent two days searching for additional specimens on Duck Creek Conservation Area at the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. No additional fish were found, likely indicating they’re in the area, but just in low numbers.

The northern snakehead was first seen in United States waterways in eastern Arkansas in 2008. Since then, the species has been expanding throughout the Midwest.

The 2019 Missouri sighting was a fish caught in a borrowed ditch within the St. Francis River levees in Dunklin County.

Conservation officials warn it is illegal to import, export, sell, purchase or possess a live northern snakehead in Missouri.

This article by JoBeth Davis was first published by KMBC News on 8 June 2023. Lead Image: Missouri Department of Conservation.

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