Chesapeake Bay Introduced Species Database

Ictalurus furcatus

Common name(s):
Blue Catfish
Blue Catfish is one the largest catfish in North America and as such is a very popular sport fish. Blue Catfish are native to Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, a range that extends from the Gulf north to Pennsylvania and South Dakota. Due to their size and popularity as a sport fish, they have been introduced in several states including Maryland, Virginia, and many Western states like California and Arizona. They may have boon introduced into the Potomac River with the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) by the United States Fish Commission at the turn of the century, but we know for sure they were stocked in the James and Rappahannock Rivers in 1975 by the Virginia Division of Inland Fish and Game. The Potomac River was stocked with Blue Catfish in the 1980s, and they are now widespread and abundance. Very large fish are being caught in both Maryland and Virginia; the Maryland state record is a 67lb fish caught in the Potomac River in 2008, and the Virginia state record is a 102lb fish caught in the James River in 2009. They are one of the largest predators in these rivers and feed on many species of native fishes, including migratory fish such as American Shad (Alosa sapidissima). The Blue Catfish is regarded as a major threat to American Shad restoration efforts.
Image courtesy of Konrad P. Schmidt.

Economic Impacts

Ictalurus furcatus (Blue Catfish) is a popular new sport and commercial species, as one of VA's largest fishes (Jenkins and Burkhead 1993). In the spring and summer of 1995, and 1996, catches of large fish in the James and Rappahannock were frequently mentioned in the Washington Post. As populations increased in the Potomac, captures of record fish captured attention among local fishermen. There was uncertainty in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as to whether recognizing record catched woukd encourage illegal intorductions of this invasive fish (Thomsen 2010). As a new top predator, it may be reducing abundance of other fishes, particularly shads, migratory herrings (Alosa spp.), and menhaden (MacAvoy et al. 2000; Schloesser et al. 2011). Potentially, I. furcatus and the other introduced giant, Pylodictis olivaris (Flathead Catfish), may be interfering with attempts to restore American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) (Garman et al. 2010; Groves and Love 2010). Management of Blue Catfish is complicated by need to balance the recreational fishery with the need to protect native fish stocks. Commericial fishery has limited potential to control I. furcatus populations, because of high levels of chemical contamination in adult dish (Schloesser et al. 2011).

References- Jenkins and Burkhead 1993; MacAvoy et al. 2000

Economic Impacts Outside Chesapeake Bay

Ictalurus furcatus (Blue Catfish) is a highly valued food and sport fish. It has been stocked in recent decades on the Atlantic Slope (VA, NC) and western states including CA, NV (Lee et al. 1980; Page and Burr 1991). It has been introduced to at least 16 states outside its native range (Fuller et al. 1999).

The introduction of I. furcatus to the Cape Fear River NC, apparently had little effect on fish community structure or fisheries (Guier et al. 1981) despite its size and predatory habits. From a purely economic and sports point of view,I. furcatus could be regarded as a beneficial introduction, but its effects on native fish communities have not been well studied.

References - Fuller et al. 1999; Guier et al. 1981; Jenkins and Burkhead 1993; Lee et al. 1980; Page and Burr 1991; Thomas 1993

Ecological Impacts

Impacts on Natives:
Impacts of the introduction of Ictalurus furcatus (Blue Catfish) in the James and Rappahannock Rivers are substantial and increasing (Schloesser et al. 2011).

Competition - Competition with native Ameiurus catus (White Catifsh), I. nebulosus (Brown Bullhead), and I. natalis (Yellow Bullhead)(especially involving juvenileI. furcatus) is likely, but hasn't been documented to our knowledge However, Maryland fisheries surveys in the Potomac suggest a decrease in abundance of A. catus (Groves and Love 2010), probably resulting from both competition and predation.

Predation - Ictalurus furcatus (Blue Catfish) are likely to be important predators, given their size and piscivorous food habits (Carlander 1969; Jenkins and Burkhead 1993). Statistical analyses indicate that I. furcatus has adversely affected clupeid (herring- family fishes) populations in the James and Rappahannock Rivers (Austin 1998, personal communication). Gut and isotope analyses indicate that anadromous Alosa spp. (Shad, Alewives, Blueback Herring) form a substantial fraction of I. furcatus' diet, resulting in a strong marine signature in the isotope composition of the freshwater predator (MacAvoy et al. 2000). Feeding studies indicate that younger fish in the James, York, and Rappahannock Rivers (smaller than 300 mm) feed mostly on benthic invertebrates, but that larger fishes (300-600mm) feed mostly on fishes. Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) was the most frequent prey species (Schloesser et al. 2011).

References- Austin 1998, personal communication; Carlander 1969; Jenkins and Burkhead 1993; MacAvoy et al. 2000
Impacts on Non-natives:
Impacts of the introduction of Ictalurus furcatus (Blue Catfish) in the James and Rappahannock Rivers are being studied (Austin 1998 personal communication; Garman 1998 personal communication). The large size, predatory habits, and rapid increase in abundance of this fish (Jenkins and Burkhead 1993) mean that it could have significant impacts on introduced biota.

Competition - Competition with introduced Ictalurus punctatus (Channel Catfish) and Pylodictus olivaris (Flathead Catfish) is possible but has not been documented to our knowledge. However, Maryland fisheries surveys in the Potomac suggest a decerease in abundance of I punctatus (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2010), probably resulting from both competition and predation.

Predation - Ictalurus furcatus is reported to feed on Corbicula fluminea (Asian Freshwater Clam) (Jenkins and Burkhead 1993), which motivated its introduction to CA. However, this catfish had no noticeable effect on clam abundance (Cohen and Carlton 1995). Ictalurus furcatus is probably an important predator on introduced centrarchids (Sunfishes).

References - Austin 1998 personal communication; Cohen and Carlton 1995; Garman 1998 personal communication; Jenkins and Burkhead 1993

This data was last modified on Thursday, June 20th, 2013.
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