Northern Snakehead Threatens Mississippi Basin

Brinkley, AR – A fish from Asia has infested waters in eastern Arkansas. Fish biologists say this invasive species has been here for up to 6 years. Now, the Game and Fish Commission are working to eradicate the top-level predator before it gains access to the Mississippi River Basin.

On April 28th a farmer found a Northern Snakehead wiggling along a gravel road in Brinkley, Arkansas.

Since the discovery the Game and Fish Commission has located another 100 of these obligate air breathers, meaning the fish can live above ground for at least three days it can also shuffle itself along a dry surface using its unique set of dorsal fins. Close to 2,000 acres of land and surface water are suspected to house these fish. District Fisheries Biologist Jeff Farwick says because of the recent flooding there is a possibility the fish could move from Piney Creek into Big Creek just south of I-40. He says his greatest fear is that the fish will make it into the White River Basin, ultimately providing access into the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

Farwick says there is no way to know for sure how the fish arrived in Lee County. However, there is speculation the population began when a farmer in neighboring Monroe County received some 2000 fish to raise for the Asian food market. After discovering their potential harm to other fish the farmer attempted to kill the population, whether or not he was successful is still up in the air. This all happened before the fish was banned in 2002 in Arkansas and placed under a federal importation ban the same year.

Farwick says the next few weeks are going to be busy in an attempt to locate and eradicate the non-indigenous creature. The procedure will take three things, time, money and Rotenone.

Dirk Elder, works with the EPA Field office for Pesticide programs in Boise Idaho. He says the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's planned application of rotenone to some 2000 acres bears little threat to the public. However, recent research suggests otherwise. A study published in the 2000 December issue of Nature Neuroscience indicates the most common form of Parkinson's disease might result from toxins in the environment. In the experiment conducted at Emory University in Atlanta, neurologists implanted tiny pumps in rats that administered low doses of rotenone for five weeks. Scientists acknowledged the pump method used did not duplicate rotenone in the real world, but was reliable for research purposes it resulted in half of the rats gradually showing Parkinson's symptoms. EPA's Dirk Elder says he is aware of the research but believes there is no real threat to the public.

Assistant Chief of Fisheries for Arkansas Game and Fish, Mark Oliver says the pesticide will kill everything that breathes in the water.

The Northern Snakehead has been identified in 9 states so far. Oliver says the eradication of the species will be expensive in time and money, costing nearly 250 thousand dollars alone just in the purchase of rotenone for Piney Creek. The fish is capable of spawning more than once in a breeding season prompting a fast response from the Game and Fish Commission.

Oliver says The Game and Fish Commission have manually applied rotenone to ditches the fish have been identified in that are not connected to Piney Creek. Right now he says the water levels are still too high and too spread out to begin the mass eradication which is scheduled to begin in August where they can ideally hit them all at once by attacking from the air, via plane or helicopter. Oliver says the fish have only been found in Piney Creek but if they make it to big creek, it will be too late simply, the department will no longer have the resources to attack the population. The EPA says the public should be fine with the August rotenone application. But applying the pesticide to an area much larger than Piney could yield unknown potentially harmful effects to the environment.