The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched a statewide campaign to minimize the impact that invasive blue and flathead catfish are having on state fisheries.
“Increasing in population and range, both blue and flathead catfish now are abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the natural food chain of our ecosystem and causing concern among fisheries manager,” said DNR Deputy Secretary Frank Dawson.
The new outreach strategy will help anglers identify and catch these invasive species, and, resource officials hope, will encourage them to keep the fish instead of releasing them. As a part of the campaign, more than 150 education/cautionary signs will be placed at access areas and kiosks across the state. Additionally, the state will help promote Maryland’s fledgling commercial catfish fishery.
“Blue and flathead catfish are long-lived, voracious predators,” added Tom O’Connell, DNR fisheries chief. “They grow to enormous size, have many offspring, and dominate other fish populations wherever they take hold.
“We want everyone to aware of this significant problem and to know that it is illegal to transport these fish between bodies of water in Maryland.”
Both species were introduced by anglers into the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, blues are in most of the bay’s major tributaries. Flatheads are in the Lower Susquehanna and the Occoquan Rivers and recently were identified in the non-tidal Potomac near Willamsport. The state record blue, weighing 84 pounds, came from the Tidal Potomac in 2012.
And they are present in huge numbers. Biologists conducting a survey for stripers in Mattawoman Creek found their nets clogged with catfish. A Port Tobacco commercial fisherman collected 300,000 pounds in one haul.
Also, stomach sampling reveals that the catfish will eat just about anything that they can swallow, including blue crabs. “Looking in the guts of these fish, we find really astounding differences in the range of species they consume, suggesting that, if left unchecked, they could potentially start to impact our ecosystem,” said Peyton Robertson, director of the Chesapeake Bay office for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.