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The McConaughy Goby Incident

Some of you will know the story I am about to tell.  It played out on the interwebs earlier this summer.  At the time, it was difficult to get all the information and understand what was really happening.  Things have settled now and we know more, so let me recount the incident. . . .

Once upon a time, someone was walking the shores of Lake McConaughy and came upon some unidentified fish.  They looked like this (I can show you what they looked like because the pictures were almost immediately posted on-line):

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Obviously, the fish were something exotic, non-native.  No one had seen anything like that swimming in any Nebraska waters.

If you looked at another photo, these fish had teeth!!!!  (Look really close.)

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You all know the interwebs are full of all kinds of experts including amateur ichthyologists.  Some of them proclaimed the unidentified fish to be snakeheads!

With that pronouncement, panic swept over the interwebs as lethal, extremely dangerous, vicious, blood-thirsty, invasive snakeheads had assailed Lake McConaughy!

From the beginning, I was very certain the fish in the pictures I was seeing on the interwebs were not snakeheads.  However, to make an accurate identification we really needed a bona fide, pointy-headed fish biologist to have the fish in hand.  Ironically, we had several fisheries personnel on or near McConaughy on that very day.  Unfortunately, the story as I understand, was that the several weird fish were not collected and saved.  Initially, we also did not know if the fish had been seen alive?  Were they swimming in the water?  How had they been captured?

Turns out the fish had been discovered dead, laying near the water’s edge.  Later in the day, one of the fish was re-found.  It was collected, and put in a bag.  Here is what the “sample” looked like when we got to see it:

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Good luck figuring out what that dried specimen might have been!

We have had “creel clerks” doing on-site interviews of anglers on waters around the state for years.  One of our clerks noted that they had seen similar fish being used as bait by certain anglers.  These anglers obtained their baits from markets/grocery stores that specialized in Asian foods.  The creel clerk thought those dead baits purchased from those stores were some type of goby.

Do an internet search for spiny goby (i.e. Ca Keo), and you will find those fish are readily available for sale.  If you look at the pictures, they look pretty much like the “mystery” fish.

I went shopping one afternoon.  We have a few Asian specialty markets here in Lincoln.  I browsed through the frozen fish cases of several of them.  At the first one, their freezer was not working correctly.  They had all of its contents under a tarp.  I told them I was not going to bother uncovering their frozen fish; I only lifted one corner and took one quick look.  The first package of fish I saw was a flat full of spiny goby.

They looked exactly like the fish that were found at Lake McConaughy.

If you want to get a fisheries biologist all fired up, start talking about invasive species being spread around.  Zebra mussels, quagga mussels, Asian carp, white perch, spiny water fleas, Eurasian watermilfoil, etc., etc., etc. are all threats to our fisheries.  You better believe someone finding some unidentified, exotic species of fish at Lake McConaughy gets our attention, fast!

Fortunately, this incident turned out to be nothing.  We are relieved.  In fact, there were no rules or regulations violated other than improper disposal of dead fish.

Yes, if you find something odd, something that does not belong, we want to know about it!  We might even want to see it!  In addition, this is a good time to remind everyone that they need to do their part in ensuring that invasive species do NOT get moved around!  Clean, drain, and dry and Protect Our Waters!

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About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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