Missouri’s Catfish: A History of Utilization, Management, and Culture
Abstract.—Catfish have provided sustenance for Missouri inhabitants since prehistoric times, and their abundance and large size capabilities contribute to a popular sport fishery. Catfish were first propagated in state fish hatcheries and stocked in public and private waters in 1911. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) began intensive rearing of channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus in 1938. Since 1942, fingerling channel catfish have been used in MDC’s private impoundment stocking program. In the early 1960s, MDC initiated production of advanced fingerling channel catfish (>20.3 cm) for stocking in small public lakes. Catchable-size channel catfish (>30.5 cm) are provided for kids’ fishing clinics and the urban fishing program where angler effort is as high as 30,000 h/ha. Blue catfish I. furcatus and flathead catfish Pylodictis olivaris were first reared for stocking in public impoundments in 1978 and 1983, respectively. Commercial markets currently exist for channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish harvested from the Mississippi and St. Francis rivers. Catfish have comprised 21% of the commercial fish harvest since commercial fishing reports became a requirement in 1945. Channel catfish aquaculture has been a viable commercial industry in Missouri since the 1950s. The first official state sportfishing regulation established for catfish was a seasonal restriction in 1928 followed by a 30.5-cm minimum length limit for channel catfish in 1933. Separate daily sport fish bag limits are in effect for flathead catfish, blue catfish, and channel catfish. Currently, catfish are the most preferred sport fish group in Missouri. Most (75%) catfish anglers prefer to fish for channel catfish, most are harvest-oriented, and more than 80% prefer to fish with rod and reel. Competitive fishing for catfish began in the early 1980s, with most tournaments held on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and associated lower tributary streams. Major management achievements include banning commercial catfishing on the Missouri River and developing an effective sampling technique for monitoring channel catfish populations in small public lakes. Current fisheries management efforts are directed by a statewide plan and primarily focused on measuring exploitation, growth, movement, and fecundity of blue catfish and flathead catfish in the Missouri River, upper Mississippi River, and associated tributaries, and growth and exploitation of blue catfish and flathead catfish in two large reservoirs.