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New Regulation Conserves Large Catfish

November 25, 2008

To maintain high quality catfish fishing in Alabama, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has enacted a new regulation. Only one catfish longer than 34 inches may be harvested each day by an angler. Live blue catfish or flathead catfish longer than 34 inches cannot be transported out of Alabama without approval in writing from the Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources. This regulation only affects catfish 34 inches or longer.

Fishing for catfish is a popular sport in Alabama. Catfish are abundant in the state, and a number of lakes and rivers are noted for trophy catfish. Alabama does not have a limit on the number of smaller catfish that may be kept. Recreational anglers catch catfish on a variety of baits, and may use a variety of techniques. Alabama’s public waters produce good catfish populations that commercial fishermen have enjoyed for many years. Because of the productive nature of Alabama’s rivers and lakes, they can support a high level of harvest. However, larger catfish grow relatively slowly, and even in Alabama’s productive waters, it takes a number of years to replace a large catfish.

Auburn University researchers under contract with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division studied the catfish on Wilson Lake in 2006 and 2007. Researchers determined that blue catfish take 13 years to grow to 34 inches, or about 15 pounds. Flathead catfish take 20 years to reach that size.

The purpose of the new regulation is to protect large, slow-growing catfish. Recreational anglers and some commercial anglers have become efficient at catching large channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. On July 5, 1996, William McKinley caught a 111-pound blue catfish in Wilson Lake, a world record at the time. A large catfish will feed a number of people, but Department personnel became aware that relatively large numbers of big catfish were being taken from public waters to be sold in neighboring states for commercial pay-to-fish ponds.
The practice became so lucrative that members of the Southern Catfisherman Association brought the issue to the ADCNR Advisory Board and recommended that a size limit be set. Auburn University research showed that a regulation protecting large catfish would be accepted by most anglers. The Advisory Board agreed, and passed the restriction on the harvest of large catfish to ensure that all anglers can enjoy fishing for catfish.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about Alabama’s catfish species and ADCNR, visit www.OutdoorAlabama.com.
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