06/26/09 — Flathead catfish are growing rapidly

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Flathead catfish are growing rapidly

By Courtesy NCWRC
Published in Sports on June 26, 2009 1:46 PM

Courtesy NCWRC

RALEIGH -- After collecting two flathead catfish from the White Oak River during a routine sampling trip in April, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are reminding the public that introducing fish to public waters where they are not native can have irreparable ecological consequences.

Biologists have been sampling the White Oak River since 2001 and this is the first time they have found flatheads in the blackwater river which flows along the Jones, Onslow and Carteret county lines in southeastern North Carolina.

The discovery is alarming because flathead catfish are large fish with large appetites, feeding primarily on other fish. Research has shown that their feeding habits can lead to the decline of native fish in waters where they have been introduced.

Flatheads, which are native to the Mississippi River basin, have been introduced into rivers in the eastern part of the state. They have become well established and abundant within 10 years of being introduced into the Cape Fear, Tar and Neuse Rivers, as well as Sutton Lake in New Hanover County.

Since 2006, Commission biologists have been conducting ongoing surveys in the Tar River to document changes in the catfish community as flatheads become established in the system.

"We've seen big changes in the numbers of flathead and white catfish," said Bob Barwick, a fisheries biologist with the Commission. "In 2006, white catfish made up over half of the catfish population in the Tar River, but now they only comprise about 30 percent of total catfish numbers."

Conversely, in the 2006 survey, flatheads accounted for 14 percent of the catfish population in the Tar River, but in the most recent survey, conducted in 2008, they comprised 56 percent of the total catfish numbers.

"From diet studies, we know that other catfish are commonly eaten by flathead catfish, and the initial trend in the Tar River indicates that white catfish have declined as flatheads have become established," said Barwick.