Gwinnett County, Georgia -- An invasive fish species that can breathe air and survive on land has been found in Georgia for the first time. And officials are warning anyone who comes into contact with the species to kill it immediately.
An angler caught the northern snakehead fish this month in a pond in Gwinnett County, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division said Tuesday.
"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," said Matt Thomas, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Resources Division. "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."
While this is the first time it's been discovered in Georgia, snakeheads have been reported in 14 states nationwide. The long, thin fish has a dark brown blotchy appearance and can grow up to three feet in length. It can also breathe air, and survive in low oxygenated systems, including on land, officials said.
A snakehead fish is considered a non-native invasive species, which means it affects native species by competing for food and habitat. In Georgia, it is illegal to possess one without a valid wild animal license.
Anglers who believe they've caught a northern snakehead should kill it immediately and freeze it, officials said.
"If possible, take pictures of the fish, including close ups of its mouth, fins and tail (and) note where it was caught," state officials said.
The United States Department of Agriculture considers the snakehead fish "injurious wildlife," and it is federally regulated.