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Blue Catfish Watch

Help scientists track these invasive fish

SERC biologist Mike Goodison with an invasive blue catfish.

What’s big, blue and whiskered and doesn’t belong in the Chesapeake?
    If you guessed blue catfish, you’re right.
    Introduced in the 1970s to Virginia rivers for sport fishing, blue catfish have been slowly but steadily making their way up Chesapeake Bay. The resilient freshwater fish have adapted to the southern Bay’s salty waters and have made their way into Maryland’s Nanticoke, Patuxent, Choptank, Sassafras and Susquehanna rivers.
    “Blue catfish can grow really big, making them fun to catch, but they reproduce quickly,” says Dr. Matt Ogburn, of the Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
    The cats likely compete with native fish. But the biggest concern, Ogburn says, “is that, once they get to be over a couple of pounds, they primarily eat other fish.” Their diet includes some of our favorites, like menhaden and striped bass, even blue crabs.
    Already abundant in Virginia’s rivers, blue catfish are less common north of the Potomac. And here is where you can help.
 
Blue Catfish Watch Chesapeake Bay
    The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has joined in the new Project Noah Mission: Blue Catfish Watch Chesapeake Bay.
    “The mission is to engage citizens in reporting the current distribution of blue catfish and, over time, help us track their spread in Maryland,” says Ogburn.
    Your job is easy — when you’re out fishing in Maryland’s rivers, if you pull up a blue catfish, take a photo of the side of the fish (no trophy shots or human faces, please), measure its length and note your location. Then, using the free Project Noah app or website, upload your photo and information. Catfish can be caught all year round — and eaten, too, once you’ve taken your photo.
    “There are a lot more fishermen than there are scientists out on the water,” says Ogburn. “This is especially important in Maryland, where catfish aren’t in most tributaries yet, or they are very rare, which makes it difficult for scientists to go out and look for them.”
    Through this project, you help “watch for their arrival” in rivers like the Severn, which hasn’t yet had a blue catfish reported.
    Project Noah also helps fishermen share where they’re catching blue catfish with one another while contributing to science and understanding Chesapeake Bay.
    Not sure if you have caught a blue catfish, as opposed to the other five species of catfish in the Chesapeake? Look for its bluish-silver body, forked tail and flat, straight anal fin. It is illegal in Maryland to transport and release live blue catfish. But taking them home to eat is fine.

Join the Blue Catfish Watch Chesapeake Bay Mission at www.projectnoah.org/missions/38272048. For more information, reach Matt Ogburn at OgburnM@si.edu.