PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is about to ramp up work to monitor the progress of catfish in West Virginia’s big rivers.
Around 2005, the agency began the reintroduction of the blue catfish into the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Clearly, the blues have thrived with several record sized fish caught. Since then, the DNR has done monitoring efforts twice a year, but District Fisheries Biologist Nate Taylor admitted it’s not the level of attention the project needs.
“Blue catfish are notorious for moving long distances,” he said. “We’re kind of in the preliminary stages, but we have about 60 fish tagged and some have moved up to 50 miles in two days.”
Such information from such a small sample has only whetted the appetite of researchers for more data on the critters, but resources and personnel are limited. Due to the demands of the job, Taylor can’t dedicate a large amount of time to studying catfish exclusively. However, it’s a project tailor made for a fisheries graduate student at West Virginia University.
“Having someone dedicated to doing specifically that project should get us a lot more information than what we’d be able to collect as an agency, so I think it’s going to work out great for everybody,” Taylor said.
The graduate student’s work will begin int he next few months and is expected to last a couple of years. . Catfish will be tagged and monitored both electronically and with visible tags which the agency hoped anglers would report when they catch one of the species. The equipment for the surveillance mirrors devices already in place from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the movement of the Asian Carp. The DNR has started surveillance in the Robert C. Byrd pool of the Ohio River, but the equipment from the feds gives them a much larger territory to cover.
“The receivers we use were part of a framework of the Asian Carp project,” he explained. “They had some receivers located outside the Robert C. Byrd pool and receivers located in lock chambers at all of the dams. Every time a fish moves through a lock chamber it should be picked up on their receiver.”
Each monitor will record the time of day the fish passed by. Taylor said they ho
pe to learn the movement patterns and possibly what would cause a catfish to move those great distances in a single day.
The study is also not being limited to blue catfish, some flatheads will also be fitted with the monitoring devices and tracked as part of the ongoing research study.
“We’re going to try and look at different environmental cues like a shift in flow rate or change in water temperature,” he said. “That will allow us to get information which should improve our catch rates into the future.”