Spaulding Outdoors by Jack Spaulding
The Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has been pretty active lately. Along with its agenda of proposed rule changes for whitetail deer and a trapping season for otter, the NRC will be taking a comprehensive look for changes to catfish regulations in the Hoosier State.
Now, before you take a dim view of the ubiquitous catfish family, please note its popularity. Catfish are some of the highest sought-after specie and often place higher in angler preference than even the much-sought bass. Catch-and-release is a sound premise for maintaining the resource, but a little hook-and-cook when it comes to Mr. Whiskers is pretty hard to beat.
Catfish popularity is part of the driving force for NCR to consider tightening the regulations. The trophy aspect of catfishing has taken a giant leap in the past few years, and many of the big fish found on the larger waters in Indiana are systematically targeted by catch-and-release catfish clubs.
Indiana introduced some basic regulations concerning catfish a few years ago, but is considering the following changes and additions to the existing rules:
•Increasing the minimum size limit on channel catfish, flathead catfish and blue catfish from 10 to 13 inches on rivers and streams statewide, including the Ohio River. The rule would include both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
•Allowing not more than one channel catfish to be taken per day that is 28 inches in total length or longer in lakes and streams statewide (both inland water and Ohio River), for both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
•Allowing not more than one flathead and one blue catfish to be taken per day that is 35 inches in total length or longer in lakes and streams statewide (both inland water and Ohio River), for both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
The issue of additional protection for catfish emerged from the NRC’s Comprehensive Rule Review Project beginning in 2009. Numerous citizens proposed more regulatory protection, often citing concerns about potential commercial overharvest of big catfish for sale to pay lake operators.
The Division of Fish & Wildlife has concerns about the existing catfish regulations, based on several factors believed to be increasing pressure on Indiana’s catfish resources. The factors include:
•Increased sport fishing interest in catfish, both for consumptive harvest and for a growing number of catfish catch-and-release tournaments
•Increased commercial harvest above the long-term annual average, including the targeting of the largest catfish available for live sale to pay lakes
•Firsthand observations and anecdotal information from fishermen over a period of years that suggest the number and size of catfish appears to be declining, at least in some heavily fished locations
•Unquantified, but likely negative, impacts on catfish from growing abundance of Asian carp as well as impacts of other exotic invasive species such as zebra mussels
•Periodic water quality issues, most notably from nonpoint source pollution affecting Indiana’s rivers
•Knowledge that current 10-inch minimum size limit does not protect catfish to reproductive size, which is closer to 15 inches
•Research findings that document catfish are more heavily exploited in the commercially fished zones of the Wabash River
The NRC gave the rule language preliminary adoption at its meeting on Nov. 18. Currently, public comments cannot be submitted to the commission for this rule package. It and the Department of Natural Resources will notify the general public when the comment period starts.
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The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments may contact Jack Spaulding by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to him in care of this publication.