Channel Catfish Populations, Management, and Angler Use in the Main-Stem Missouri River Reservoirs
Wesley W. Bouska, Chris Longhenry, Paul Bailey, Dave Fryda, and Heath Headley
Abstract.—Channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus are an important recreational and commercial species in much of the United States. Catfish species accounted for a large portion of angler harvest in the years prior to, and immediately after, main-stem reservoir construction on the Missouri River. Since impoundment, fish communities and angler preferences have shifted. Although channel catfish have remained abundant and are among the most common species in population surveys, they are no longer heavily targeted by anglers. We compared channel catfish population metrics, management, and angler creel surveys among the six main-stem Missouri River reservoirs in order to better understand and promote these fisheries. Proportional size distributions ranged from 35 to 79, and relative weights ranged from 84 to 93 among reservoirs in 2009. Channel catfish mean lengths at age were highest in Gavins Point, the lowermost reservoir, and tended to decrease upstream. Estimates of total annual mortality from catch-curve analysis ranged from 12% to 25%. Several reservoirs had a channel catfish population consisting of fish with all year-classes present through age 20, suggesting low exploitation, and one channel catfish from Garrison Reservoir was estimated to be age 28. Gavins Point and Fort Peck are the only reservoirs regulated with harvest limits and bans on commercial fishing. Percentage of interviewed anglers specifically targeting channel catfish ranged from less than 1.0% to 9.5% among reservoirs, and catfish accounted for less than 3.0% of overall estimated fish harvest for all reservoirs combined. These reservoirs could support significant increases in channel catfish harvest. Additional research and creative management strategies are needed to better promote these underutilized fisheries.