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'If you catch one, kill it': Mississippi fights back against invasive northern snakehead

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/1/2020 Brian Broom, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
a man holding a fish: Bradley Baugh of Boyle said invasive northern snakeheads are becoming more common in some Mississippi River oxbow lakes. © Special to Clarion Ledger Bradley Baugh of Boyle said invasive northern snakeheads are becoming more common in some Mississippi River oxbow lakes.

The nonnative northern snakehead was discovered in Mississippi in 2017 by bowfishermen Brad Baugh and Bubba Steadman. Three years later, what was considered an anomaly has become commonplace.

"This year, we've shot six," said Baugh. "There seems to be more of them."

That's why the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has this message: "If you catch one, kill it," said Larry Pugh, the agency's director.

According to Mississippi State University Extension Service, snakeheads have been reported since 2008 following an accidental release from a commercial fish farm in Arkansas. Northern snakeheads are native to Russia, North and South Korea and China.

In China, they are widely cultured for food and sold in live fish markets. Some believe the snakehead was established in the U.S. by individuals releasing them from the live food fish or the aquarium fish trade. Established populations exist in Arkansas, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Hawaii, Texas and Florida, to name just a few states.

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Northern snakeheads are somewhat similar in appearance to the native bowfin, also known as a grinnel or choupique. However, bowfins have a shorter anal fin, a black spot near the tail and lack the snakelike pattern on snakeheads.

Bowfin also lack the primitive lung that snakeheads have that allows them to live out of water for several days and wriggle across land.

"I've seen dozens," Baugh said. "Everything is spawning now so they're in shallow water.

"We were seeing them in the same area. As the river has fallen and the water has receded, we're fishing a couple of miles from where we were and we're still seeing them. I saw six the other night and I killed two of them. That tells me there's a lot. They're obviously getting a foothold, so there's going to be more of them."

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The introduction of a nonnative fish is concerning but, in this case, not alarming.

"A snakehead report doesn't get our attention like it did," said Pugh. "We know they're coming into connected oxbows in other states.

"They don't seem to be having a negative impact. The impacts are not as bad as we initially thought."

In Mississippi, Pugh said the fish are isolated to Mississippi River-connected oxbows and laws are in place to keep it that way. It is illegal to transport or possess a live snakehead.

Follow Brian Broom on Twitter: @BrianBroom

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: 'If you catch one, kill it': Mississippi fights back against invasive northern snakehead

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