Place of origin and introduction to Alberta

Black bullhead (Ameiurus melas) is a prohibited non-native fish that can outcompete native species for resources and pose a human health risk due to venomous stings from body spines.

Black bullheads are native to southern Canada, the United States and Northern Mexico. The species has been intentionally stocked for sport fishing and for human consumption, which has led to accidental and intentional spread.

Black bullhead was discovered to have been illegally introduced in Alberta in the Texaco East Pond near Fort McMurray in 2015. After successful eradication treatment in 2015, the pond was restocked with rainbow trout in 2017.

Identification

  • Brown to black body with yellow belly and no mottling. No scales.
  • Fins are dark, tail fin rounded and unforked, sometimes with pale stripe at base.
  • Single, sharp spine in dorsal and pectoral fins that contains venom.
  • Eight whisker-like barbels around mouth, chin and nostrils.
  • Distinguished from other bullhead species by completely dark chin barbels.

Reproduction

  • Sexually mature at 2 to 3 years of age
  • Spawn in late spring to early summer
  • Lay 2,000 to 6,000 eggs in small nests in the mud bottom of a waterbody

Issues

  • Voracious and generalist feeding habits allow black bullhead to consume a wide range of prey, including amphibians and offspring of native fish. This reduces available food for native species.
  • Increase turbidity, causing decrease in habitat suitability, making it difficult for native fish to survive.
  • Able to tolerate wide range of conditions including pollution, turbid waters, low oxygen, and high temperatures through burying themselves in the mud.
  • Spines on sides of bodies contain small amounts of venom, which may cause painful stings to humans and other predators.

Current management

  • Black bullhead is listed as a prohibited invasive species, making it illegal to import, transport, sell and possess in Alberta.
  • Prevention is the best defence as there are no selective control measures. Available response options are expensive and time consuming. Prevention is prioritized through prohibition of import into Alberta.
  • When feasible, manual removal through netting and angling can be used, but is labour intensive.
  • Pesticide treatment can be done as a last resort, but is often only feasible for use in isolated waterbodies without other fish present.

Take action

Never import, purchase or release black bullhead into Alberta waterbodies. Penalties for introducing a fish into any waterbody other than where it was found can be up to $100,000 and/or a year in prison. See:

Report sightings of aquatic invasive fish:

By telephone: Aquatic Invasive Species Hotline
1-855-336-BOAT (2628)
Online via mobile or desktop: EDDMapS Alberta App

Report any unlawful activities to:

  • Report-a-Poacher phone line
    1-800-642-3800 (Toll free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

Resources