Arkansas to use the pesticide rotenone to kill invasive fish

Brinkley, AR – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission this fall will spend more than half a million dollars on a pesticide to eradicate the Northern Snakehead. Nicole Erwin has more on how the product will affect the 4,000 acres scheduled for application.

The largest eradication effort in the history of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is underway and the weapon of destruction to rid the state of the invasive Northern Snakehead--is rotenone.

Dirk Helder is with the Environmental Protection Agency's office of pesticide programs, he says rotenone is a pesticide product that's only registered use is to kill fish. So far rotenone seems to be the only thing working on this invasive creature. The air breathing freshwater fish is not native to North America, it's home is actually in Asia. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it is a voracious predator that if left uncontrolled could permanently alter the balance of aquatic ecosystems throughout the Mississippi River Basin, having significant negative economic impacts. The fish is a popular food source in Asia and it is that reason biologists believe the fish arrived in the U.S. According to the National Northern Snakehead Working Group, the fish was prohibited from importation and interstate transport in 2002. Yet, more of them keep popping up.

Assistant Chief of Fisheries for Arkansas Game and Fish, Mark Oliver, says using rotenone is the last resort. A Northern Snakehead was identified wiggling along a gravel road in Brinkley Arkansas in early April-since the initial sighting another hundred have been found. Other locations identifying populations are Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, and Washington D.C. All of which have chosen the pesticide rotenone in their eradication attempts.

Director of The Neurodegenerative Disease Group at the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, Jian Feng says each individual has a different genetic makeup, thus different susceptibility levels to products like rotenone. The mass eradication the wildlife department has planned for some 4000 acres, Feng says, could put humans at risk long term.

Despite genetic and neurological research, the EPA as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feel the product is safe. Brian Finlayson works with the rotenone Stewardship program, which formulated the rotenone use manual. He says the studies that found Parkinson's like pathology are not relevant to rotenone exposure in humans, birds and mammals because the exposure and duration of the product given to the rats in the studies are not germane to real life.

Finlayson says the worry about the product getting into groundwater can also be laid to rest. Studies on groundwater in California have been conducted for more than twenty years and they have yet to find any rotenone, and Finlayson says they have been looking hard.

Other concerns include the temporary eradication of all fish populations to the applied areas. Paul Maslin is the field director for the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. In 1986 rotenone was applied to 10 miles of Chico Creek in California, Maslin has watched the growth of the creek since. The wildlife department applied the rotenone to rid the river of specific native fish to increase the population of the game fish. Maslin says three populations have yet to reproduce, and the game fish haven't increased in number either. He says through his observations the product should never have been applied.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has planned a three-phase eradication treatment. It will begin September 29th through October 18th and will consist of aerial and ground application of up to 24,000 pounds of powdered rotenone and 3,000 gallons of liquid rotenone to Big Piney Creek, Little Piney and tributaries and ditches. Phase II will involve a short-term assessment and re-treatment. The third and final phase will include restocking the creek with largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. The long-term monitoring of the treatment will begin in 2009.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act the Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting public comment on the proposed action. The 30-day comment period spans between August 22nd and ends September 22nd. A public meeting to discuss the plan will be held September 18th in Brinkley at the Brinkley Convention Center.

Snakehead eradication meeting Sept. 18 in Brinkley, Arkansas

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public hearing about eradicating northern snakehead fish at 7 p.m., Sept. 18, in Brinkley at the Convention Center: 1501 Weatherby Drive, Brinkley, AR 72021
(870) 734-1500

The first part of the meeting will outline the need to protect the Piney Creek watershed from the fish, which eat sport fish and can survive in a wide variety of habitats and temperatures. The second part of the meeting will be open to public comments about the Piney Creek Environmental Assessment and the eradication project. Several AGFC personnel and FWS biologists will be available during the meeting to answer questions. The eradication will be staged in three phases: treatment, short-term assessment with retreatment, and stocking of fish and long-term assessment.

The Environmental Assessment is available at