Human Interactions with Catfish
Abstract.—Archeological explorations indicate that prehistoric peoples worldwide caught and ate species of catfish, though details of fishing methods are not well recorded. In the United States and elsewhere, commercial and recreational fishing for catfish played important roles in the development of fishery management from the 19th century to the present. Not surprising, considering their abundance and usefulness, catfish have been incorporated into human culture and tradition wherever they are abundant. In the United States, important commercial fisheries developed on large rivers and vast productive lakes in the late 1800s, and later in impoundments built on these rivers. Toward the end of the 20th century, commercial activity and harvest of freshwater catfish declined in response to overfishing, pollution, attitude shifts, regulations, and the growth of catfish aquaculture. Substantial commercial fishing for many catfish species also has taken place in the Amazon basin since the 1890s, and overfishing has occurred there as well. Commercial aquaculture in the United States began in the early 1960s and expanded rapidly, with production primarily in the Mississippi Delta region. Today, however, most interactions with catfish in the United States likely come through recreational fishing, and fishing for catfish has been of growing interest among anglers in recent decades. Worldwide, catfish species attract substantial attention from recreational anglers. The large size of some species and their mysterious habitats in large rivers has made catfish popular subjects for nature shows on television, and several species are attractions at public aquaria. Catfish species also are popular with fish hobbyists for their diversity and interesting behaviors. The status of catfish fisheries, as well as their importance in biological food webs, has made research on catfish biology and management a priority in many jurisdictions and a focus of this symposium. Today, threats to catfish populations and fisheries include habitat degradation, watershed-scale alterations, and overharvest.