Just when we’re getting a handle on the invasive snakehead fish (aka Frankenfish), officials warn of another invasion — giant blue and flathead catfish. They can grow as large as 100 pounds, live for more than 20 years and the Chesapeake Bay is now their home.

They’re originally freshwater fish from the Ohio and Mississippi River basins. Sport fishermen let them loose in several Virginia tributaries in the 1960s through ’80s and the catfish adapted to the Bay’s brackish water.

NOAA Fisheries has been tracking the catfish in the Chesapeake Bay and reports “they are now present in every major Chesapeake Bay tributary” and have become a problem.

They’re fierce predators and are changing the environmental landscape in the Bay to the detriment of native fish, but sport fishermen love catching the huge fish.

68-pound & 52-pound blue catfish

68-pound & 52-pound blue catfish (Photo courtesy Joseph Schmitt).

A task force was formed to try to figure out how to deal with the invasive catfish. Their solution: eat the fish. Whole Foods is now selling Chesapeake Bay blue catfish in their stores.

“Four years ago we weren’t selling any blue catfish. We’re now selling over 300,000 pounds a year.” says John Rorapaugh, the sustainability coordinator for Profish Ltd, a Washington, DC-based seafood purveyor. “Customers have been happy to eat locally caught fish while helping to reduce the populations of invasive species in their hometown.”

Chesapeake Bay catfish fillets

Battered catfish during an event encouraging the public to eat catfish. (Photo courtesy NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office)

Chesapeake Bay Catfish Facts

  • Electrofishing efforts for invasive catfish have caught upwards of 6,000 fish in an hour.
  • The largest blue catfish caught in Maryland was 84 pounds—52 inches long—in the Potomac River in 2012. The largest caught in Virginia was 102 pounds and was caught in the James River in 2009.
  • It is illegal to transport live blue and flathead catfish between water bodies in all Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions.
  • There is no limit to the number of blue or flathead catfish an angler can catch and keep in Maryland. Virginia anglers can keep 20 blue catfish per day, but only 1 per day longer than 34 inches, and 20 flathead catfish per day with no size limit.