PUXICO, Mo. — An invasive fish that is a voracious predator capable of surviving out of water for days was recently caught in southeastern Missouri, causing worry that the hard-to-contain species will spread and become a problem.
The northern snakehead was caught last month in a drainage pool at Duck Creek Conservation Area. The last time one of the so-called "Frankenfish" showed up in Missouri was four years ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Wildlife officials sounded the alarm, but many anglers say they're unaware of the fish, its potential impact and what to do if they catch one.
U.S. officials say that anyone who catches a northern snakehead should photograph it and "kill the fish by freezing it or putting it on ice for an extended length of time."
The northern snakehead is originally from east Asia, where they are a delicacy believed to have healing powers. They reproduce quickly, have sharp teeth, can wiggle across muddy land and grow to nearly 3 feet in length.
The federal government in 2002 banned the import and interstate transport of live northern snakeheads, but they are flourishing in some parts of the U.S.
"They are knocking on the door in Arkansas," said Dave Knuth, a Missouri fisheries management biologist based in Cape Girardeau. "They are a beast."
The catch in May was worrisome, Knuth said. "I didn't expect them to be this far up the state already," he said.
The first northern snakehead found in Missouri was caught in 2019 out of a ditch within the St. Francois River levee system in the Missouri Bootheel region.
On May 19, state workers using a net to catch bait for a youth jug-fishing clinic pulled a 13-inch northern snakehead out of Duck Creek Conservation Area. Knuth said the fish was found in the same watershed as the first one, though about 70 river miles north of the initial catch.
Wildlife officials spent two days searching for additional northern snakeheads in the conservation area and neighboring Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. No others were found, but they fear others are lurking, at least in low numbers.
Larry Underwood, 73, who lives near the conservation area, wished the state well in its efforts to keep out the northern snakehead. As he fished, he noted that the state also tries to control feral hogs, but with little luck.
"It's kind of like the hogs," he said. "You are going to eliminate that? Yeah, good luck."
In 2019, the snakehead was also spotted in Pennsylvania and in Georgia. After an angler reported catching one in a private pond in Gwinnett County, Georgia wildlife officials issued a warning to other fishermen: "Kill it immediately."
In 2015, a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that a group of adult northern snakehead collected from Virginia waters of the Potomac River south of Washington D.C. were infected with a species of Mycobacterium, a type of bacteria known to cause chronic disease among a wide range of animals.