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Re: NFC: Catfish

Biologist tries to curb flathead catfish growth

Web posted Aug. 31 at 10:27 PM

Associated Press

HAZLEHURST, Ga. (AP) - Unlike many natural scientists, Rob Weller is not
out to try to preserve a species. Instead, he's trying to prevent the
spread of one in Georgia's rivers.

Weller's job at the Department of Natural Resources' Bowens Mill Fish
Hatchery in Fitzgerald is to control the flathead catfish - voracious
eaters who were somehow introduced to Georgia waters and are thriving in
several streams.

Fishermen began catching the dreaded flatheads in the Ocmulgee River near
Macon in the early 1970s.

Since then, they have spread down the Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers and
upstream on the Oconee River to the Lake Sinclair dam at Milledgeville.

They have decimated the population of redbreast sunfish, and have almost
wiped out the bullhead catfish.

Weller and his associates were at Burkett's Ferry Landing on the Ocmulgee
River near Hazlehurst last week shocking flathead catfish so they could
be netted and removed from the river.

Weller is working on a 25-mile stretch of the Ocmulgee between Lumber
City and Jacksonville, Ga., testing several procedures, including
electroshock, in hopes of finding a control method.

The department donates catfish of edible size to non-profit organizations
such as the Mel Blount Youth Ranch in Lyons.

From his johnboat, Weller used an electric line through which he sent a
low-voltage, low-frequency current from two car batteries into the river.
Its affect was immediate: catfish skittering across the surface.

The men with nets moved quickly.

Those catfish, however, were silvery channel cats, not the brown, black
and yellow mottled flatheads. Weller and his fellow workers collected
only about 50 flatheads along a mile stretch of river while seeing
hundreds of channel cats.

``That's good,'' Weller said. ``When we came through here a few weeks
ago, we saw mostly flatheads. Now we're seeing a lot less of them.''

DNR officials also have found flatheads in the Flint, Ogeechee and
Satilla rivers.

``We don't think the flatheads in the Satilla are having any impact on
the sunfish population. Our intention is to never let them,'' Weller

The impact has been remarkable, however, along the Altamaha and Ocmulgee.

In 1988, state researchers caught an average of 44 pounds of flathead
catfish an hour on the Altamaha River; in 1996, that average was 594
pounds, at an average of 8 pounds per fish. In 1988, researchers caught
an average of 105 redbreast sunfish an hour on the Altamaha compared with
1996 when they averaged 70 per hour.

Anglers are helping the state biologists' efforts to control flathead

Georgia flathead catfish fishermen probably are having more success than
those in the fish's native states because they are more abundant in
Georgia streams, Weller said.

``Where I'm from in Texas there's a size limit and catch limit on
flatheads. They're considered a trophy fish,'' said Weller, who wrote his
master's thesis at Texas Tech on flathead catfish and their habitat.

Weller doesn't know exactly why the flatheads do so well in the rivers of
Georgia and other Southern states. He figures it might be that they like
the habitat and have fewer competitors for food than in their home
rivers, such as the Missouri and Mississippi.

Robert Rice
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