Today the Moore-Miller Administration issued a formal request to the Secretary of Commerce requesting the declaration of a federal fisheries disaster due to the impacts of invasive catfish and snakeheads in Chesapeake Bay. This request kicks off a formal review process by the Department of Commerce which could result in an infusion of federal funding to help address the impact of these invasive species on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay fisheries and the associated ecological and economic harms. Similar funding was previously granted in 2009 following the precipitous decline of blue crabs.
Blue and flathead catfish were first introduced in the 1970s and 1980s in Virginia to develop a recreational fishery. Since then, these invasive fish have expanded their range into nearly every Chesapeake Bay tributary. The blue catfish’s ability to tolerate varying salinities, temperatures, and habitat allows them to move easily throughout the Bay. These catfish are voracious predators that feed on native species such as menhaden, striped bass, eel, shad, river herring, and blue crabs. In areas where blue catfish populations are established, catfish make up approximately 75 percent of the total weight of all fish inhabiting the river.
Snakeheads, which are native to Asia, have proliferated in recent years in freshwater areas of Bay tributaries after being discovered in the area in 2004. They are considered a threat to freshwater species such as largemouth fish and perch that share similar habitats.
Following Gov. Moore’s announcement, Allison Colden, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Senior Fisheries Scientist, issued this statement:
“This is a critical first step in addressing the significant problem of invasive catfish and snakeheads in Chesapeake Bay. Federal support would help implement key programs to target harvest of blue catfish and other invasive species to mitigate their ecological damage, while supporting Maryland watermen who have been most affected by negative impacts on native fish species. This action will hopefully complement regulatory reforms up for debate in the next Farm Bill, which would remove catfish processing requirements that have so far hamstrung efforts to increase catfish harvest.
“We applaud the Moore-Miller administration for their leadership in addressing this critical issue affecting the Bay’s ecosystem, watermen, and working waterfront communities.”