These two non-native and invasive northern snakeheads were recently caught in Georgia.

Last week’s article discussed one non-native species, the armadillo. This week, I received information that a non-native and invasive fish species had been found in Georgia. The fish species is the northern snakehead. The initial report about a snakehead in the United States that I personally remember happened several years ago in Maryland. In that case, the snakehead was moving between bodies of water by traveling over land!

Since then the snakehead has been found in various waterways in 14 states across the United States. Unfortunately, in early October, an angler reported catching two snakeheads in Gwinnett County. This was the first confirmed report of a snakehead in Georgia. The snakeheads were caught in a private pond on private land.

“Our first line of defense in the fight against aquatic invasive species, such as the northern snakehead, are our anglers,” said Matt Thomas, Chief of Fisheries for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (GWRD). Thanks to the quick report by an angler, our staff was able to investigate and confirm the presence of this species in this water body. We are now taking steps to determine if they have spread from this body, and, hopefully, keep it from spreading to other Georgia waters.”  

The snakehead is a long fish that is similar to the common bowfin found in waters throughout Georgia. They can grow up to three feet and amazingly they can breathe air, can survive in low oxygenated waterways and survive on land. The snakehead is a voracious feeder. Both Lakes Oconee and Sinclair have non-native fish and Lake Sinclair now has non-native and invasive grasses that are causing concerns for lake residents. 

I am often asked about the difference between non-native and invasive. The definition of non-native means "not indigenous or native to a particular area.” An example of non-native would be the armadillo that was discussed in last week’s article. Non-native species do not necessarily cause environmental or economic harm to the area in which they have located. I think I could argue that the armadillo does cause harm at least to my yard. 

An important distinction between non-native and invasive is that non-native species do not disrupt the natural functions and processes of our native ecosystems. Invasive species are plants and animals that have been introduced, either intentionally or accidentally, into areas outside their natural ranges and do cause economic or environmental harm. 

However, a species can be both non-native and invasive as is the case of the snakehead. The snakehead is native to Africa and Asia. The snakehead has the potential to impact native species in areas where they have been introduced by competing for food and habitat. In Georgia, it is unlawful to import, sell, transport or possess any species of snakehead without a valid wild animal license.

The Wildlife Resources Division said if a snakehead has found:

1. Kill it immediately (remember it can survive on land) and freeze it.

2. Take photos of the fish.

3. Record the location where it is caught or found.

4. Report the information to your regional Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Office (https://georgiawildlife.com/about/contact#fish

Some examples of invasive species that have been introduced into Georgia and can cause, or have caused a problem, include illegally introduced blueback herring that have already caused the quality of largemouth bass, bream and crappie fishing in Georgia mountain lakes to decline. Illegally introduced spotted bass has destroyed smallmouth bass fisheries in North Georgia. Illegally introduced flathead catfish have decimated sunfish populations in the Satilla River.

One potentially worrisome problem is zebra mussels that are moving south from the Great Lakes where they were first found in 1985. They have now been found in Tennessee and Alabama. The zebra mussels if found in Georgia could impact native mussels (many are already endangered), clog intakes that provide drinking water, power plants and outboard motors. 

In addition to invasive fish species, there are concerns about invasive plants as witnessed by invasive plants that have found their way into Lake Sinclair over the last couple of years. Those invasive plants found in Lake Sinclair include hydrilla and Egeria.

Boat owners can help reduce the spread of invasive grasses zebra mussels by cleaning their boat and trailer when leaving any lake or river and launching in a different lake or river. Boats moving between different bodies of water are the primary way that invasive grasses and zebra mussels are introduced into lakes. Also, aquarium owners should never release the contents (fish and plants) of aquariums into any body of water. 

Good fishing and see you next week.  

—Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached at brpeoples995@gmail.com.

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