Historical Catch, Age Structure, Sizes, and Relative Growth for an Introduced Population of Blue Catfish in Lake Oconee, Georgia
Michael D. Homer, Jr. and Cecil A. Jennings
Abstract.—In Georgia, blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus are native in the Coosa River drainage in the northwestern part of the state. However, they were first detected outside this range during an annual gill net survey of Lake Sinclair conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in 1996, then again in a similar survey of Lake Oconee during 1997. Catch of blue catfish in annual surveys of Lake Oconee continued to increase, but demographics of the populations are unknown. We used annual survey data for the period 1989–2009 to identify trends in catch of blue catfish in the lake. Age and size structure of the blue catfish population in Lake Oconee was assessed based on catch data from the 2008 survey. Mean length for blue catfish captured (n = 121) was 330 mm (SD = 132 mm), and mean weight was 468 g (SD = 683.9 g); the largest fish was 740 mm and weighed 5078 g. Otoliths from the blue catfish collected were cross-sectioned, mounted on glass slides, and examined under a dissecting microscope, and annuli on each section were counted independently by two readers. Catch data indicated that blue catfish catch increased rapidly after 1997. Seven year-classes (2001–2007) were represented in the 2008 sample, and most fish were from the 2003 year-class (mean age: 3.7 years; SD = 1.4 years). These data document a rapidly expanding blue catfish population in Lake Oconee and could serve as the basis for developing management strategies in this reservoir system and others across North America where blue catfish are expanding their range.