Invasive Plants, Animals and Fish Are a Threat to Arkansas Outdoorsmen | Outside

Giant threats to Arkansas fish and water lurk below the surface somewhere right now. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission needs the help of boaters to stop these terrors before they spread further.

Invasive non-native plants, animals, and other creatures may seem like small problems at first, but together they account for more than $120 billion (with a “B”) in damage to the United States each year. Blocking access to recreation, like fishing and boating, is just one of the ways these nuisance aquatic species are costing Americans money. They also have an impact on public services, tourism, aquaculture and agriculture.

No one wants to see their favorite lake overgrown with a green carpet of impenetrable weeds, but it has happened in some states, and some of the worst culprits are already here.

Matt Horton, AGFC’s Aquatic Nuisance Species program coordinator, says 36 aquatic nuisance species have been documented in Arkansas, including plants, fish, mussels and other types of organisms. Some of the better known species include giant salvinia, silver carp, northern snakeheads and zebra mussels, but these are just some of the species that can cause significant ecological and economic damage, as well as a risk to human health.

“Louisiana spends more than $1 million a year to control giant salvinia, a plant that was recently discovered in Arkansas,” Horton said. “Millions more are being spent on other aquatic invaders. This money is being diverted from habitat management, stocking and improving fisheries for anglers. The AGFC has already closed one from our hatcheries because the lake around it has become infested with zebra mussels, which is already impacting fishermen in Arkansas.

Just like when fighting a virus, Horton says the best plan of attack is to stop it from spreading to new areas. Here are some ways everyone can fight harmful aquatic species in Arkansas to keep our waters healthy and accessible for angling and boating enjoyment.


Invasive species are usually spread through unintentional introductions when they hitch a ride on a boat, motor, trailer, or fishing and hunting gear. Taking a minute to wash off debris, remove vegetation, and let your boat and gear dry completely can kill those hitchhikers before they reach a new destination.

“Anything that comes in contact with water can be a vector for the spread of these different organisms,” Horton said. “Most invasive plant species are spread by tiny fragments of the plant. All it takes is a tiny fragment of the plant to quickly infest and overrun an entire body of water.

A pressure washer like the ones found in car washes can effectively clean the boat, engine, and trailer and remove many of the nasties that can hitch a ride on your rig. Pay special attention to the area around the berths and trailer axles, as they can grab vegetation at the ramp and carry it unseen until you get to a new body of water.

If you can’t wash the boat between trips to a new destination, let it completely drain and dry out, which will help kill some of the culprits.


An extension of “Draining” in the motto Clean, Drain and Dry is to unplug your boat’s plug to make sure all the water has drained. By Arkansas law, all drain plugs must be removed from your boat at the boat launch upon completion of your trip. This includes bilge drains, cooler compartments, bait and livewells. Pathogens, such as viruses, as well as small bits of vegetation and invasive mold larvae can hide in your rig’s plumbing and keep the cycle going.

Anglers who want to keep their catch fresh on a long drive are best served to cover fish in a dry livewell with ice. Not only are you preventing the spread of harmful species, but the fish will actually be easier to clean and less likely to spoil than if they were brought home in lukewarm water. This law is not just about anglers. The ballasts of wakeboats should be drained after a day on the water to prevent these types of vessels from also harboring stowaways. ALL boat plugs must be removed.


Live bait is the best way to ensure a bite when you go fishing, but the minnows you’re using might not be minnows after all. The water they are in may also harbor pathogens or pieces of harmful aquatic plants that are not native to the lake or stream where you are fishing. For this reason, the AGFC prohibits the movement of live bait, including crayfish, between water bodies. Any live bait used must be purchased from a certified bait supplier or sourced from the body of water where you are fishing.

Invasive young carp, such as silver carp and bighead carp, for example, can look a lot like shad, a native baitfish favored by anglers targeting striped bass, but silver carp can wreak havoc in a lake’s food chain and cause safety issues for boaters due to their tendency to jump out of the water when startled by a boat’s engine.

When you’re done with your fishing trip, it’s also best to dump the baitfish on the shore or in the trash where they can’t find their way back into the water. It may seem wasteful, but the accidental introduction of a virus or other invasive species into the water is far more devastating.


Anglers and other boaters can help Horton fight aquatic pests by knowing what to look for and letting the AGFC know as soon as they spot a possible infestation. “The sooner we discover a new sighting, the sooner we can act to contain it and hopefully eradicate it,” Horton said. “Some plants, like the giant salvinia, can double in size in less than a week under the right conditions. Waiting for that to become a problem is not an option.

The AGFC is developing an online dashboard to help show people where pest species have been documented. A smartphone application will also be developed to facilitate the reporting of harmful aquatic species.

CLICK HERE to see what aquatic nuisance species have been reported in Arkansas and report any sightings.

“When people see one of these species, they can call me (501-747-9012), email, or use the online reporting tool on the webpage” , Horton said. The information needed for a report includes one or more photos of the organization, GPS coordinates if possible, the name of the body of water and the contact details of the person filing the report.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is also working on additional materials to help the public identify harmful aquatic species, which will be available soon.


It may be with the best intentions, but many anglers can inadvertently destroy fisheries by importing fish and other organisms that are not native to a watershed, one tank at a time. After a long day of fishing, some anglers may decide they don’t want to bother cleaning up their catch and releasing it alive into another lake or stream on the way home. Others may intentionally “store” fish they want to see in bodies of water closer to home after catching a few on a long trip.

Both cases are illegal and can have disastrous consequences. North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia are currently battling encroachments of Alabama spotted bass, native to the Coosa River Range, which began with introductions by anglers. These fish are known to be aggressive and fight well, but they overtake native smallmouth and largemouth bass in their new homes, ultimately harming fishing and actually reducing the overall size of fish weighed by some of the very anglers. who introduced them illegally.

CLICK HERE to learn more about how you can help protect Arkansas waters from aquatic invaders.

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