A year later: Louisiana’s first, lone sighting of invasive snakehead reported by Natchez man

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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MINORCA, La — It has been a year since Natchez resident and Monterey High School coach Patrick Wells captured video of an invasive snakehead on Old River near Minorca. Robert Bourgeois, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator, said they have not had any new sightings. 

Snakeheads are originally from Asia and do not have a native predator in Louisiana. Bourgeois said the good news is in the 11 other states where snakeheads are present there has not been any reported major impact on native fish as first feared by fisheries managers. The LDWF is still concerned about the invasive species. 

Wells, a Natchez angler, tried to catch one last summer and was unable to. No further snakehead sightings were reported since Wells captured video of the fish. 

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Bourgeois said electrofishing surveys did not find any snakeheads in their sampling this year. Louisiana does not offer a bounty for catching snakeheads but people are encouraged to keep the fish and report it to the LDWF by calling 225-765-3977. People can also email reports to AquaticInvasives@la.gov

If you do happen to see or catch a snakehead be sure to take a side view photo of the fish, kill it, freeze it. 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.

Similar to Gar, snakeheads will gulp air to take in oxygen in low oxidized environments. They can tolerate shallow, low oxygen conditions protecting them from potential predators. 

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks reports snakeheads have a similar diet to bass such as frogs, crawfish, baitfish and panfish. Lure selection should be similar to bass but you might need stronger tackle due to the strong fish.  

Snakeheads have a similar textured meat as garfish do. Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports the meat is similar to any flaky white fish such as halibut, haddock, whiting, or even striped bass. It is legal to catch and keep dead snakeheads and safe to consume them.

Bourgeois told The Natchez Democrat last year his research found the fish has two breeding periods in early spring, May, and late summer, August. 

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said the name snakehead comes from the enlarged scales that cover their heads. These fish can grow up to 3 feet in length and can bear a similar appearance to native Bowfin, also known as choupique. Anglers need to learn the difference between the two species. 

“Bowfin are likely to be the species that will be confused with snakeheads,” Bourgeois said. “Being able to tell the difference will stop false reporting and unnecessary harvest of bowfin.”

Anglers can distinguish between native Bowfins and invasive snakeheads thanks to a few details. Bowfins have 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 better see the difference between snakeheads and bowfins.