Blue catfish are not native to the brackish waters of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, but their populations are booming there. That’s not necessarily good news though. The big cats could be contributing to major population declines in two of the Bay’s most iconic species. That being striped bass and blue crabs. The state of Maryland is now seeking Federal Disaster Aid to help combat the deleterious impact of the hungry monster cats. Field & Stream recently took a deep dive into the story.
Maryland Governor Wes Moreland recently asked the federal government to declare a state of disaster regarding the havoc being wreaked by blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay. He outlined his reasoning for that request in a letter sent to the Department of Commerce. The Governor claims the invasive fish are decimating native species and contributing heavily to severe declines in commercial fish harvests. That in turn hurts the region’s economy. If the request is approved by the feds, millions of federal dollars will pour into the Bay. That money will be used to fight a war on the big invasive fish.
“In recent years, the state has become increasingly concerned about the explosion in the abundance of invasive fish species in the Chesapeake Bay. This includes blue catfish, flathead catfish, and snakehead,” Governor Moore said in an official statement. “It is critical to act now to mitigate the effects of these invasive species and to provide assistance to the commercial fishing industry.”
Blue Catfish Are Wrecking The Chesapeake Bays Native Fisheries
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, commercial fishery species that now have to compete with invasive species have declined by as much as a mind-blowing 91% over the last decade. The biggest dips have hit blue crab and striped bass populations. The economic impact of those two species is huge. Commercial fishermen have harvested an average of $64 million worth of blue crabs and striped bass a year since 2012.
He mentioned several other species as well. But most of Governor Moore’s letter focused on the impact that blue catfish are having on the ecosystem off of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “Blue catfish are voracious eaters,” he wrote. “They consume other fish, crustaceans, and even other catfish. They out-compete the native species for both habitats and food and threaten key commercial fisheries including blue crab, striped bass, white perch, yellow perch, and American eel.”
Blue catfish are native only to the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Rio Grande river basins. However, they were introduced to river systems in Virginia back in the 1970s for recreational fishing purposes. They unexpectedly matriculated to coastal waters from there. The species’ ability to thrive in saltwater environments was unknown at the time. It has since allowed the species to expand into nearly every Chesapeake Bay tributary. Estimates indicate that up to 75 percent of fish in some of those tributaries are now blue catfish.
This video from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources details methods that commercial fishermen are utilizing in Chesapeake Bay tributaries to remove blue cats.