Conservationists: Kill this invasive fish species recently seen in Missouri

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 11:09 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - “It was only a matter of time before we saw this species continue to spread in Missouri.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation has confirmed a second instance of a northern snakehead fish in the state. According to a release, an angler captured the fish while seining for bait in southeastern Missouri.

“This fish has a wide temperature tolerance, can spawn multiple times in one year, and can survive in low-oxygenated waters by breathing air,” MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Dave Knuth said. “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.”

Snakeheads are an invasive species native to Asia, the conservation department stated. They’re known to be aggressive predators, preying on native species and competing for resources.

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Additional attempts to find the invasive species at the Duck Creek Conservation Area but found no additional northern snakeheads, “likely indicating they’re in the area, but at low numbers,” MDC stated.

They are described as having a large mouth and sharp teeth, large scales atop the head, and eyes located far forward on the head — making their heads resemble those of snakes.

If you find a northern snakehead, MDC recommended the following:

  • Make sure it’s a snakehead. Northern snakeheads can be confused with the native bowfin. Snakeheads have a snake-like appearance with a much longer anal fin than the bowfin.
  • Do not release the fish or throw it on the bank, as it could migrate back to the water or to a new waterbody. Remember this fish is an airbreather and can live a considerable amount of time out of the water.
  • Kill the fish by severing the head or gutting it.
  • Photograph the fish so the species can be positively identified.
  • Report any sightings of the fish to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5858.

The first instance of a confirmed northern snakehead sighting in Missouri was in 2019 in Dunklin County. For more information on the northern snakehead, click here.