JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation is warning fishers about an invasive species that has made way into Missouri waters, one the agency says should be killed if you reel it in.

A fisher in Wayne County reeled in a northern snakehead on May 19 in the Duck Creek Conservation Area. The fisher was using bait when he or she stumbled upon the non-native species.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says this if the second northern snakehead reeled in from Missouri waters on record and the first one spotted since 2019 in Dunklin County.

Snakeheads are native to Asia, though considered aggressive predators in U.S. waters. MDC says they prey on native species and compete for resources. Snakeheads have a snake-like appearance with a longer anal fin than a similar-looking bowfin fish.

“This fish has a wide temperature tolerance, can spawn multiple times in one year, and can survive in low-oxygenated waters by breathing air,” said MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Dave Knuth. “The impacts of this species on native fish populations are still to be determined and it’s something we will have to follow over time.”

MDC spent the last several days looking for additional specimens of the northern snakehead on the Duck Creek Conservation Area and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. Agents found no snakeheads, but believe they are still around in small numbers.

“Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before we saw this species continue to spread in Missouri,” said Knuth.

According to MDC, if you find a northern snakehead in Missouri, you are advised to kill it by cutting off the head or gutting it. Also, make sure to follow these other procedures:

  • Make sure it’s a snakehead. Northern snakeheads can be confused with the native bowfin.
  • Do not release the fish or throw it on the bank, as it could migrate back to the water or to a new waterbody
  • Photograph the fish so the species can be positively identified.
  • Report any sightings of the fish to MDC’s Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5858.