Cumberland Times-News

Outdoors

April 19, 2014

Bad catfish should be eaten

Md. concerned native fish will be depleted

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has  launched  a  statewide  campaign  to  educate  citizens  about invasive blue and flathead catfish -  their negative impact on native fish species and what anglers can

do to help.

“Increasing in population and range, both blue and flathead cat- fish are now abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the natural food chain of our ecosys- tem and causing concern among fishery managers,” said Deputy Secretary  Frank  Dawson.

DNR wants anglers to be able to identify and catch these invasive species, understand the impor- tance of regulations that prohibit their transport and encourage anglers to keep the fish instead of releasing them alive.

“Blue and flathead catfish are long-lived voracious predators. They grow to enormous size, have many offspring and dominate other fish populations wherever they take hold,” said DNR Fish- eries Service Director Tom O’Con- nell. “We want everyone to be aware  of  this  significant  problem and  to  know  that  it  is  illegal  to transport these fish between bodies of water in Maryland.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Imple- mentation Team and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commis- sion have both formerly recog- nized the need to address the threat to native species by work- ing to reduce invasive catfish densities.

In addition to establishing more than 150 educational/cautionary signs at water access points and kiosks statewide, the state is esca- lating efforts to market Maryland’s fledgling commercial catfish fishery. At a recent press conference, catfish dishes from Chef Michael Stavlas of Hellas restaurant in Millersville and Executive Chef James Barrett of Azure in Annapolis provided attendees with a taste of this delicious invader. “The  marketing  of  Blue  Catfish

is a win-win for Maryland’s seafood industry. It promotes anglers catching and restaurants serving fish with no seasonal regu- lations, while reducing the pres- sure on native species,” said Maryland Seafood Marketing Director Steve Vilnit. “These fish have already found their way to hundreds of area menus, and Whole Foods Market and the Clyde’s restaurant chain have committed to add them to their offerings.”

“We are pleased to help restore balance in the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem by selling wild blue cat- fish to institutions and restaurants at a competitive market  price,” said Wendy Stuart of the Wide Net Project, which also supports the effort. “We then take our commitment to the region a step further, with proceeds from the sales sup- porting local hunger relief and environmental  education.”

Blue and flathead catfish were introduced into the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem in the 1970s and ’80s.

Flatheads found ideal conditions in the Occoquan River,  a  small tidal Potomac tributary in Virginia and were recently identified in the freshwater Potomac River near Williamsport.

Flatheads have also become established in the Lower Susque- hanna River.

Blue catfish are now in most of the major tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay as a result of their natu- ral range expansion and possibly through illegal introductions by fishermen seeking to establish fisheries in other waters.

There is no limit to the number of these catfish an angler can catch and keep.

The Maryland Department  of the Environment advises limiting monthly blue catfish consumption for adults to four fish under 15 inches or two between 15 and 24 inches or one between 24 and 30 inches and none over 30 inches due to the possibility of chemical accumulation in the flesh.

The recommended monthly limit for children is four under 15 inches or one from 15 to 24 inches or one fish every other month from 24 to 30 inches and none over 30 inches.

To report any suspicion of illegal transport of live invasive  species in Maryland call 800-635-6124. The fine for breaking this law by mov- ing live blue and flathead catfish is up to $1,000.

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