‘Kill it immediately’: 3-foot long fish that can live on land found in Georgia waters

Juvenile northern snakehead. Photo credit: Georgia DNR

For the first time, invasive northern snakehead fish have been confirmed in Georgia waters. In early October, an angler reported catching the fish in a pond located on private property in Gwinnett County.

What is a northern snakehead?

The northern snakehead is a long, thin fish, similar in appearance to the native bowfin. They have a long dorsal fin that runs along their whole back, and a dark brown blotchy appearance. Northern snakeheads can get up to three feet in length. They can also breathe air allowing them to survive on land and in low oxygenated systems.

Where are they from?

The northern snakehead is native to the Yangtze River basin in China. However, snakeheads have been reported in 14 states in the United States.

How did they get in Georgia?

Invasive species are often introduced through unauthorized release. In Georgia, it is unlawful to import, transport, sell, transfer, or possess any species of snakehead fish without a valid wild animal license.

Why are snakeheads a concern?

Northern snakeheads have the potential to impact native species in introduced areas by competing for food and habitat.

Mouth and teeth of a northern snakehead. Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey Archive

How can citizens help:

• Learn how to identify northern snakehead.

• Dispose of aquarium animals and plants in the garbage, not in waterbodies.

• Dispose of all bait in trash cans, at disposal stations, or above the waterline on dry land.

• Dump water from boat compartments, bait buckets, and live wells on dry land.

What should you do if you find a snakehead?

Anglers are the first line of defense. If you think you’ve caught a northern snakehead:

  1. DO NOT RELEASE IT.
  2. Kill it immediately and freeze it. They can survive on land.
  3. If possible, take pictures of the fish. Include close ups of its mouth, fins and tail.
  4. Note where it was caught like the waterbody, landmarks or GPS coordinates.
  5. Immediately report it to your regional Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Office.

For more information about the northern snakehead, or other aquatic nuisance species, visit https://georgiawildlife.com/aquatic-nuisance-species

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