An invasive northern snakehead fish, a creature native to Asian countries like South Korea and China, has been found in Georgia for the first time, prompting a warning from local officials to kill the animal “immediately” if located.
On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division said that the fish was found in a pond on private property in Gwinnett County earlier this month. Gwinnett County is located in the northern part of the state, just outside of Atlanta.
“Our first line of defense in the fight against aquatic invasive species, such as the northern snakehead, are our anglers,” Matt Thomas, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division, said in the statement.
“Thanks to the quick report by an angler, our staff was able to investigate and confirm the presence of this species in this water body,” Thomas continued. “We are now taking steps to determine if they have spread from this water body and, hopefully, keep it from spreading to other Georgia waters.”
Though it’s the first confirmed sighting of the species in Georgia, snakeheads have been reported in 14 states. The long, thin fish has a dark brown blotchy appearance and can grow up to three feet in length, officials said. Northern snakeheads can also breathe air and are able to survive on land.
The snakehead is a non-native invasive species, meaning it has the potential to negatively impact native species by competing for food and habitat.
Officials said it is illegal to possess, import or sell any species of snakehead fish in Georgia without a license.
The Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division also advised anyone who believes they have found a northern snakehead to “kill it immediately” before freezing it.
“If possible, take pictures of the fish. Include close ups of its mouth, fins and tail,” state officials said, adding that the finding should then be reported to local Wildlife Resources Division offices.