‘They’re everywhere’: Maryland seeks to reduce supply of tasty, invasive blue catfish

Blue catfish grow to large sizes, are tasty to eat and can be easily caught in the majority of Maryland’s rivers — the problem is they’re considered invasive and are a threat to other native fish and aquatic life.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is urging people fishing in the area to target blue catfish.

blue catfish
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is urging people looking to do some local fishing to target blue catfish, which are an invasive species locally. (Courtesy Stephen Badger, Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

“Catch and keep as many as you want, any sizes,” said Branson Williams, the department’s invasive fishes program manager. “They’re really a tasty fish, and we’re encouraging people to eat them.”

Blue catfish are native to midwestern river basins, including the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Rio Grande rivers, Williams said.

The freshwater fish were introduced in Virginia during the 1970s to create a new sport fishery, according to the MDNR’s website.

“They were stocked in Virginia and across the country to form these recreational fisheries, because they reach large sizes and they taste good,” Williams said. “The world record is 143 pounds, out of Virginia.”

However, they don’t just thrive in freshwater rivers.

“Turns out they do pretty well in brackish waters, so they’ve spread throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the past 20 years or so,” Williams said. “They now occupy all tributaries of the Bay, and even the Bay proper, in the upper bay and middle bay.”

Not only has the blue catfish expanded its range, but also its abundance: “They’re everywhere,” Williams said.

Catfish eat a lot of different aquatic animals, including ones that are important to Maryland.

“They do eat a significant amount of blue crab, white perch, Atlantic menhaden, which are species that have cultural and commercial importance to the region,” Williams said. “Blue catfish are associated with decreased abundance of white catfish, which are our native catfish.”

Williams said blue catfish are so prominent they can be caught in a variety of ways, off boats and by dropping a line off a riverbank.

“People use a wide variety of baits to catch them, everything from fresh cut fish, like fresh Atlantic menhaden — blue catfish eat chicken livers,” Williams said. “I’ve heard of people soaking chicken breast in garlic, and different flavors of Jell-O to catch them.”

The MDNR offers specific locations with large blue catfish populations on its website.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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