Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

Finding Of Snakehead Fish Worries Memphis
January 12, 2006

Release from:
Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - They're called "snakeheads," and they just aren't welcome in these parts.

But a member of that voracious breed of Asian fish has been found in a Memphis lake, the first of its kind to turn up in the wild in Tennessee.

Snakeheads are native to China and Southeast Asia and are bad boys of the fish world, with sharp, jagged teeth and the ability to drag themselves across land for short distances.

They can grow up to 4 feet long, eat other fish and are always hungry. The species has been dubbed the "Frankenfish."

A 17-inch snakehead found dead last month in a small lake in Shelby Forest State Park has wildlife agents worried that others of its kind might be lurking nearby.

"If there is a positive side to this, it's that the fish was floating dead," said Bobby Wilson of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "That could mean that it had been living in an aquarium and was used to being fed by hand. Once it was forced to find food on its own, it couldn't survive."

At first, authorities thought the snakehead might be a goldfish, Oscar fish or other breed often kept by aquarium owners. But biologists at the University of Memphis said no such luck.

"Those species are unusual, but for the most part they're harmless," Wilson said. "The snakehead has the potential to cause a wide range of ecological problems."

Now, wildlife agents are preparing their electronic gear and other equipment for a fish count in Poplar Tree Lake. If other snakeheads are found, the 125-acre lake popular with pole-and-bobber anglers, canoeists and picnickers may have to be drained.

State wildlife management rules list the snakehead as "injurious to the environment," and they are illegal in Tennessee. It is also illegal to release any fish in Tennessee waters that is not native to the state.

"We're already having a lot of problems in Tennessee with Asian carp and Zebra mussels," Wilson said. "We don't need the snakehead added to that."

In Maryland in 2002, snakeheads were found breeding in a private pond. Authorities poisoned that pond and two others and found more than 1,000 juvenile snakeheads and six adults. The fish were traced to a Maryland man who discarded two fish after buying them live in a New York market.