Invasive snakehead confirmed in Louisiana

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, June 7, 2023

MINORCA, La — Monterey coach and Natchez resident Patrick Wells captured video of a Northern Snakehead while fishing near Minorca in Concordia Parish Sunday. He shared the video to Facebook and said “Well, snakehead fish have made it to Natchez,” in a post and reported the sighting to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

LDWF’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator Robert Bourgeois said he watched the video captured by Wells and said it appears to be a snakehead. Five other states have confirmed populations of snakeheads in Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia, Florida and Maryland.

Snakeheads are a non-native and potentially invasive species in Louisiana. LDWF reported in 2020 there were no official reports of snakeheads in Louisiana, while some were found in Mississippi. It became a concern as snakehead fish could move to the state’s waters, outcompete and prey upon the native species in Louisiana.

“Like most invasive species when they come here our predators won’t normally prey on them. They could get a foothold. They have shown to have a slow expansion in Arkansas,” Bourgeois said. “Unlike invasive carp, they are slower reproducing. It does have unique habits. In the video, you can see it gulp air. They can live in marginal habitats with limited oxygen similar to garfish. This allows them to have babies in that habitat where they are protected. Low oxygen and shallow water, they can survive in water most things can not survive in.”

Snakeheads eat fish, frogs and crawfish. LDWF warned in 2020 that snakeheads could have the potential to devastate recreational and commercial fisheries. Bourgeois said in the other states there has not been an impact on native fish so the department does not expect it to kill all of the bass but did say”We are concerned.”

The sighting is the first confirmed report of a snakehead in Louisiana. Bourgeois said they had received reports in the past which turned out to be the native Bowfin, also known as choupique. The snakehead captured on video was the first one he was pretty confident about.

Bowfins can be distinguished from snakeheads by a black spot at the base of its tail and a short anal fin while snakeheads have an elongated anal fin and a lower jaw protruding past the upper jaw. You can look at a LDWF brochure to see the difference between snakeheads and bowfins.

LDWF asks people if they caught one to take a side view photo of the fish, kill it, freeze it and contact the aquatic invasive species hotline at 225-765-3977. Make sure you note the exact location of the catch to aid the department in determining the range and size of population to aid management strategies. The aquatic invasive species department can also be reached via email at AquaticInvasives@wlf.la.gov.

Bourgeois said he has heard snakeheads are good table fare in other places and can be eaten.