BASS Times: Full-court press against snakeheads in Arkansas

BRINKLEY, Ark. — State and federal wildlife officials are taking decisive steps to prevent the spread of northern snakehead fish up and down the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, those actions might be too little, too late.

After the exotic predator was discovered in ditches in Lee County, Ark., this past spring, resource managers quickly applied rotenone, a chemical that coats the gills of fish and suffocates them, but has low toxicity for other wildlife. But officials fear they did not eradicate the entire population.

In response, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a plan to poison nearly 200 miles of waterways in Lee and Monroe counties. Treatment originally was scheduled for Sept. 29 to Oct. 18.

 But all this rain we've had might change those dates," said Marsha Gipson of the U.S. Geological Survey.

 Gipson, who is also a competitor in the Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Academy Sports & Outdoors, helped measure stream flow in Big and Little Piney creeks to determine at what rates rotenone should be applied.

 Tentative plans call for up to 24,000 pounds of powdered rotenone and 3,000 gallons of liquid to be applied to the creeks and adjoining tributaries and ditches across 4,000 acres.

 Assessment will follow the initial treatment, and more rotenone will be used in areas where incomplete kills are suspected. Finally, officials will restock the waters with largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish, as they continue long-term monitoring of the creeks.

 As thorough as the agencies plan to be, though, chances are not good that the snakeheads will be eliminated.

 That's because populations were firmly established, and possibly spreading, before they were discovered in April 2008. Area farmers and biologists found fish of varying sizes and killed an estimated 100 and collected 55 live specimens.

 The primary fear is that they migrated into the White River, where they then could extend into the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

"This is some of the worst news we could get as fisheries biologists," AGFC's Mark Oliver said at the time of the initial discovery. "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. From the White River, they have access to much of the state."

 Also reproducing in the Potomac and Delaware rivers on the East Coast, snakeheads likely became established in Arkansas as a result of one fish farmer who was raising them legally until 2002.

 Likely, they escaped from his ponds or he did not dispose of them properly, officials allege.

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