MARIANNA, Ark. — A breeding population of northern snakehead fish has been detected in eastern Arkansas, and spring floods may have spread them into surrounding creeks and rivers. Unfortunately, these creeks and rivers are connected to the White, Arkansas, St. Francis and Mississippi rivers.
"This is some of the worst news we could get as fisheries biologists," said Mark Oliver, assistant fisheries chief for Arkansas Game and Fish (AGF). "We can see, looking in their stomachs, that they'll eat everything that's out there.
They're eating crawfish and bream, and they'll kill fish just because of the competition factor."
In late April, farmers in eastern Arkansas found adult snakeheads in ditches and near an irrigation pump. Biologists quickly applied rotenone to the ditches, killing about 100 snakeheads and collecting 55 live specimens for study.
Other invaders likely have moved on.
"Unfortunately, all these creeks were way out of their normal borders," said Oliver. "Once they're out in the streams, there's no way to do anything about them."
Similar to the carp invasion now plaguing rivers of the Midwest, the snakehead population probably originated from an Arkansas fish farmer. In this case, Jack Dunn intended to raise the exotic fish commercially before their possession became illegal.
Upon the advice of state and federal officials, Dunn decided to kill the fish, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper. He removed them from his ponds with seines and dumped them on levees. Unfortunately, snakeheads can live for several hours out of water and even crawl to water.
"Some of them must have flopped down the levee and gotten in the drainage ditch," Mike Freeze, a former AGF commissioner, told the newspaper. "The worst case is that they'll continue to spread, and they'll be another fish we're going to have to deal with, and there will be ecological impacts that we can't see."