Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

Snakehead Found In Tennessee
May 30, 2006

Release from:
Fayette County Review

Tennessee has now joined eight other states in the discovery of a northern snakehead fish in its public waters.

The Fisheries Division of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency received a report that a fish appearing to look like a snakehead had been found by a fisherman in Poplar Tree Lake in the Meeman-Shelby State Park near Memphis. Park Manager Steve Smith reported the potential snakehead fish to the TWRA office in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2005. Smith said that an off-duty deputy sheriff found the 17-inch dead fish floating in the lake on Dec. 12 and scooped it up. The deputy sheriff, William Nelson, has a B.S. degree in Biology and knew that the fish was not something he had ever seen before. Deputy Nelson had read about snakeheads in Maryland and Pennsylvania in news articles over the past year and suspected that this fish may indeed be one as well.

TWRA Assistant Chief of Fisheries Bobby Wilson spoke with Park Manager Smith about the fish.

"My first thought was that someone had probably caught a bowfin which slightly resembles a snakehead in appearances," said Wilson. "But it became obvious that Smith was relatively familiar with the identity of a snakehead fish."

Smith had already sent the fish to Dr. Jack Grubaugh at the University of Memphis for identification where he confirmed that the fish was, indeed, a northern snakehead fish.

Snakehead fish are native to China and Southeast Asia. The northern snakehead is a voracious predator with very few enemies and can decimate native fish populations. They can grow up to nearly four feet in length. Snakeheads can breathe air and can survive for up to four days out of water. They can also travel over land to new bodies of water by wriggling their bodies over the ground.

Snakeheads are sold in the U.S. both as food in Asian markets and as pets. They are illegal to possess or transport in Tennessee and are listed as an "injurious to the environment" species.

Wilson says that the next step will be to determine if this is an isolated case or if there are more fish in Poplar Tree Lake. Electrofishing samples will be conducted in the lake soon and will continue through the Spring to look for other adult fish or evidence of reproduction.