'Kill it immediately': Invasive fish that breathe air, survive on land found in Georgia waters

Wildlife officials say an invasive fish native to China was recently discovered in Georgia waters and warned area residents to “kill it immediately” due to the potential impact it can have on other animals native to the area.

In early October, a northern snakehead fish was reported by an angler catching fish in a pond located on private property in Gwinnett County, according to a post this week by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Described as a “long, thin fish, similar in appearance to the native bowfin,” officials say the northern snakehead can get up to 3 feet in length and can also breathe air — allowing them to survive on land and in low oxygenated systems.

The mouth and teeth of a northern snakehead are shown in a file image. (Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey Archive)

The fish is native to the Yangtze River basin in China, but snakeheads have been reported in 14 states in the United States, officials said.

“Invasive species are often introduced through unauthorized release,” the department wrote in a post warning of the fish. “In Georgia, it is unlawful to import, transport, sell, transfer, or possess any species of snakehead fish without a valid wild animal license.”

Wildlife officials said northern snakeheads can impact native species by competing for food and habitat, adding that anglers are “the first line of defense.”

Anyone who thinks they may have caught a northern snakehead, described as having a long dorsal fin that runs along its back and a dark brown blotchy appearance, should not release it back into the water, officials said.

In fact, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said anglers should kill it immediately and freeze it, citing how the fish can survive on land.

Residents were also asked to take pictures of the fish, including close-up photos of its mouth, fins and tail, and note the location of where it was caught.

Anyone who potentially comes across a northern snakehead fish was also asked to immediately report it to the regional Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Office.

More information about the northern snakehead and other “aquatic nuisance species” is available online.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.