By Chris Patrick, staff writer
Across Virginia, ten scientists have been independently pondering non-native catfish. But on March 8, these researchers came together at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
“There’s a lot of research being done,” says Tom Murray. “The purpose of this meeting was to assimilate some of the pieces of the research and see what’s missing to understand this new resource.”
Murray, VIMS extension staff affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant, hopes that the meeting fosters collaboration between the researchers that will ultimately inform non-native catfish management.
Blue and flathead catfish were introduced to Virginian rivers between the 1960s and 1970s for recreational fishing. Since then, their numbers have exploded. Their long lifetimes, ability to live in a wide range of conditions, and tendency to eat just about anything that fits in their mouths has allowed them to quickly populate Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Because blue catfish eat native species like blue crabs, there are concerns that blue catfish will impair the ecosystem and damage the fisheries that depend on these native resources.
At the meeting, the researchers discussed these concerns and considered how to evaluate the impacts of non-native catfish, like the effect of blue catfish on blue crabs. They also identified gaps in current non-native catfish knowledge, including the lack of basic information about their reproduction and movement, and considered how to address these holes with future work.
For Lisa Moss, fish biologist at the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, the meeting demonstrated the importance of teamwork moving forward.
“I came away from the meeting with a greater appreciation for the challenges lying ahead and the need to foster cooperation to meet those challenges,” she says.
The meeting on non-native catfish was held on VIMS campus and organized by Murray and Bob Fisher, VIMS extension staff affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant. Moving forward, the researchers plan to continue gathering data, with the help of fisheries, to better assess the size of catfish populations and the outlook for its harvest and control.