Editor’s Log: Catch & Kill - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Catch & Kill

If you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em.

Such appears to be the story on the Chesapeake where the invasive blue catfish problem is so bad that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is encouraging fishermen to catch and kill every one they can.

Straight Arrow News political correspondent Ray Bogan (yes, he’s a New Jersey native and the son of the Point Pleasant attorney by the same name) recently wrote how DNR estimated the number of blue cats in the bay at about 100 million fish as of 2011; while the agency doesn’t have any recent estimates, they know the population has grown.

“Supposed to be zero blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay basin,” said Joseph Love, a member of the DNR Invasive Species Matrix Team.  In an interview with Straight Arrow News, Love described how these invasive blue cats are eating blue claw crabs, the eggs of striped bass, and whatever else they can get into their mouths.  “The Chesapeake Bay is changing and part of that’s owed to invasive species,” Love said.

Because blue catfish are so destructive DNR wants the population reduced, so there are no limits – no season, no size, and no bag.  Thus anglers are encouraged to catch as many blue cats as they want, whenever they want.  Bogan went on to reference Capt. Marcus Wilson of the charter boat Rock-N-Robin out of Chesapeake Beach, MD as trying to turn lemons into lemonade since he once relied on a lucrative trophy striped bass season before DNR canceled the trophy striper season to protect the bass’ spawning population.

“Due to regulations and the way things have shaken out, it’s, you know, they’ve taken that away from us,” Capt. Wilson told Straight Arrow News, adding “So we’ve had to find something else to supplement that loss of business.”

During a 1986 press conference, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan immortalized the expression, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”  The blue catfish problem in the Chesapeake provides a prime example.

Mississippi natives, blue catfish were initially introduced by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) into the James and Rappahannock Rivers in 1974, with subsequent stockings in the York River watershed in 1985, in an effort to create a recreational trophy fishery during a time when coastal striped bass populations were crashing along the entire Atlantic. “While we achieved the goal of establishing a large predator trophy fishery in the absence of striped bass, these actions have had some unintended consequences that we continue to learn from,” DWR would later admit.

Once established, the blue catfish population grew rapidly in Virginia through the 1990s, with wide-reaching range expansion into adjacent river systems. “When blue catfish were initially stocked in 1974, it was a common belief that the species would be confined to the rivers in which they were stocked,” the DWR noted, adding that as of last year the blue cats had been documented in all of Virginia’s tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, all the way up to the Susquehanna.  In response, the fish has been identified officially as an invasive species.

“Because blue catfish are so abundant and because they get so large and consume a lot of food, the department is very concerned that they’re impacting these aquatic resources of traditional value to the state,” Love told Straight Arrow News.  Now that blue cats have reportedly made it through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (C&D Canal) and into the Delaware estuary, expect these invasive troubles to continue.

And to think, it all started 50 years ago this year someone from the government thought it would be a good idea for striped bass fishing to introduce an invasive eating machine into prime spawning areas.  For every single step forward it seems as if we continually take two steps back!

Check out Tom Pagliaroli’s River Monsters: Tangled Up In Blue (Cats) article in the October, 2023 edition of The Fisherman.

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