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Blue Catfish

Ictalurus furcatus

The blue catfish has four pairs of whisker-like barbels around its mouth, which it uses to search for food. (rbairdpccam/Flickr)
The blue catfish has four pairs of whisker-like barbels around its mouth, which it uses to search for food. (rbairdpccam/Flickr)

Often confused with the channel catfish, the blue catfish is a large, smooth-skinned fish with a slate blue body and whisker-like barbels around its mouth. It was introduced to the region in the 1970s, and is now considered an invasive species.

Appearance:

  • Long fish with flat anal fin and deeply forked tail
  • Slate blue body with silver-white belly
  • Smooth skin lacks scales
  • Four pairs of black, whisker-like barbels around mouth
  • Adults usually grow to be less than two feet long, but can be as long as five feet and weigh more than 100 pounds

Habitat:

  • Lives primarily in fresh waters, but has high tolerance for different habitat and water conditions
  • A bottom-dweller that prefers large rivers with deep channels, swift currents and sandy bottoms
  • Seeks cooler waters in summer, warmer waters in winter

Range:

  • Native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river basins
  • Stocked as a recreational catch in almost 20 states
  • Introduced to the James, Rappahannock and York rivers in Virginia during the 1970s and 1980s. Populations have expanded into the Potomac River

Feeding:

  • Opportunistic bottom-feeder that uses its long barbels to search for food
  • Varied diet includes plant matter, insects, crustaceans, worms and other fish, like menhaden, shad and river herring

Predators:

  • Adults have few natural predators

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawning occurs from late May through June, often in lower-salinity streams and smaller tributaries
  • Parents build nests in dark, protected areas, like under rocks or in hollow, submerged logs
  • Females produce 4,000 to 8,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight
  • Both parents care for eggs and young
  • Young often form schools after hatching
  • Can live more than 20 years

Other Facts:

  • Blue catfish are a popular recreational catch.
  • The largest blue catfish caught in Maryland weighed 84 pounds, and was caught in the Potomac River in 2012. The largest blue catfish caught in Virginia weighed 102 pounds, and was caught in the James River in 2009.
  • Blue catfish were introduced to the region in the 1970s, and are now considered an invasive species. Their growing numbers and rapid expansion throughout the region have raised concern about their potential impact on menhaden, blue crabs and other native species that play an important role in our ecosystem and economy. In 2012, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team adopted an Invasive Catfish Policy statement, which outlines the need to control the effects of these nonnative fish. The Goal Team’s Invasive Catfish Task Force hopes to manage their spread while keeping in mind their recreational value.

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Fishes of Chesapeake Bay by Edward O. Murdy, Ray S. Birdsong and John A. Musick
  • Invasive Catfish – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office
  • Blue Catfish – Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Blue Catfish – Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries



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