header graphic

Snakehead Battle Moves to Arkansas

Battle lines in the war on the northern snakehead – the invasive Asian fish that infiltrated Maryland and Virginia waterways in 2002 – have moved west to Arkansas. Discovery of the voracious predator in Big Piney Creek, a tributary of Arkansas's White River, has alarmed state and federal wildlife experts, worried that spread of the fish will threaten native fish populations.

The predatory fish, marked by a protruding lower jaw, pose a risk to many endangered species in various parts of the country, including 16 amphibians, 115 fishes, and five crustaceans. They can breed five times a year and travel over land as well as water.

In a desperate bid to stop the fish before it reaches White River National Wildlife Refuge, 40 to 60 miles downstream, and the lower Mississippi Valley, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help undertake a major action in late March. Together with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), Service officials will spray 195 miles of waterways and ponds with rotenone and Antimycin A. The chemicals are toxic to fish, but residues in dead fish are not harmful to insects, birds, and mammals that eat them, according to an environmental assessment prepared by the Service and the AGFC.

After spraying, the Service will help the AGFC monitor results and restock the treated areas with native game fish – largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish.

"We're hopeful we can keep the fish from reaching the refuge," said Dennis Sharp, manager of White River Refuge. "We certainly do not want to see them established here. This opens the door to the whole lower Mississippi Valley."

Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Lindsey Lewis hopes that habitat closer to the refuge proves inhospitable to the invasive fish. "The habitat they prefer – shallow, swampy, and full of dense aquatic vegetation – is very different," said Lewis. Further downstream toward the White River, the creek widens, becomes muddier and has less vegetation.

Contact: Dennis Sharp, White River National Wildlife Refuge 870-282-8200 or dennis_sharp@fws.gov


Last Update: November 23, 2009
FWS Logo