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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.


The blue catfish is a long fish with a flat anal fin and deeply forked tail. Its smooth skin lacks scales. It has a slade blue body with a silver-white belly. Four pairs of black, whisker-like barbels appear around its 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.


Live primarily in fresh waters, but have a high tolerance for different habitats and water conditions. Bottom-dwellers that prefer large rivers with deep channels, swift currents and sandy bottoms. Seek cooler waters in summer and warmer waters in winter.


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


Blue catfish are opportunistic bottom-feeders that use their long barbels to search for food. Their varied diet includes plant matter, insects, crustaceans, worms and other fish, like menhaden, shad and river herring.


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. Blue catfish 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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