Ecological Role of Blue Catfish in Chesapeake Bay Communities and Implications for Management
Ryan W. Schloesser, Mary C. Fabrizio, Robert J. Latour, Greg C. Garman, Bob Greenlee, Mary Groves, and James Gartland
Abstract.—Rapid increase in abundance and expanded distribution of introduced blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have raised regional management concerns. This study uses information from multiple surveys to examine expansion of blue catfish populations and document their role in tidal river communities. Originally stocked in the James, York, and Rappahannock River systems for development of commercial and recreational fisheries, blue catfish have now been documented in adjacent rivers and have expanded their within-river distribution to oligo- and mesohaline environments. Range expansions coincided with periods of peak abundance in 1996 and 2003 and with the concurrent decline in abundance of native white catfish I. catus. Blue catfish in these systems use a diverse prey base; various amphipod species typically dominate the diet of smaller individuals (<300 mm fork length [FL]), and fishes are common prey for larger blue catfish (>300 mm FL). Recent studies based on stable isotope analyses suggest that adult blue catfish in these systems are apex predators that feed extensively on important fishery resources, including anadromous shads and herrings Alosa spp. and juvenile Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus. Minimizing effects on Chesapeake Bay communities by controlling high densities of blue catfish populations is a primary goal of management, but conflicting demands of the commercial and recreational sectors must be resolved. Further, low market demand and human consumption concerns associated with purported accumulation of contaminants in blue catfish pose additional complications for regulating these fisheries.