The Flathead Catfish of Northwest Florida Rivers


Rich Cailteux and Dan Dobbins

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

5300 HighBridge Road

Quincy, FL† 32351


In Florida, 23% of freshwater anglers target catfish followed only by black bass (49%) and panfish (26%) in popularity (USDOI 2001).† Although this survey does not split out species, channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus is almost certainly the most popular species (J. Crumpton, FWC, pers. comm.), but in one North Florida river, another unwanted species is gaining prestige.


Native catfish species such as channel catfish, white catfish I. catus and several bullhead species Ameiurus spp. occur in all north Florida rivers.† However, until recently very little information existed on these populations (Cailteux et al. 1999; Cailteux et al. 2002).† Exacerbating this paucity of information, is the known presence, in at least six north Florida rivers, of an introduced top predator species of catfish, the flathead catfish Pylodictis olivaris (Figure 1).† The flathead catfish is native to the Mississippi, Rio Grande and Mobile Bay drainage systems.† It is a voracious predator, capable of exceeding 45 kg in weight and is second in size only to the blue catfish I. furcatus, the largest catfish in North America.† Introduced flathead catfish populations have negatively altered native fish populations such as small bullhead species and the

†† much sought after redbreast sunfish Lep

†† omis auritus in several southeastern

†† states (Guier et al. 1981; Thomas 1993).†


†† Introduced into the Flint River, Georgia,††

†† in the mid-1950ís (Quinn 1987), the flat†

†† head catfish was first encountered in the†††††††††

†† Apalachicola River in the early 1980ís

†† (C.Mesing, FWC, pers. comm.) but was

†† rare in abundance.† By the mid-1990ís,

†† this pecies was being collected in high densities (>60 fish/hour) by electrofishing in the Apalachicola River (Cailteux et al. 1999), and it appeared that redbreast sunfish abundance was lower (FWC, unpublished data) than reported in the early 1980ís (Ager et al. 1983).† Many thought that if the numbers of flathead catfish could be drastically reduced that the redbreast sunfish would once again be present in good abundance.† Flathead catfish are extremely vulnerable to low voltage electrofishing and with the advent of hand-held units (Hale et al. 1984), it was thought by some that a commercial fishery could be established to reduce the numbers of this species.† However, with the potentially high catch rates and Dobbins et al. (1999) estimate of only 56 flathead catfish (>38 cm) per river kilometer, a commercial electrofishing fishery could not be sustained for more that about six months.† Also, Cailteux et al. (1999) reported that greater than 96% of flathead catfish harvested by anglers were larger than 50 cm due to the low quantity of meat yielded from smaller fish.†

††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††


Text Box: Feature Article
flathead catfish

backFLAFS HomeNext