After spending four years on an unassuming, dinged-up, metal bathtub of a boat, netting tens of thousands of blue catfish, Hae Kim could identify a fish’s dinner even before seeing it regurgitated by a simple touch or the salty, rancid smell.

Kim is a member of a research team from Virginia Tech studying the diet of the blue catfish from the Chesapeake Bay. The team is led by Joe Schmitt, a Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellow, and PhD candidate in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Tech.

“We have been gagging and bagging blue catfish for the past four years now,” says Schmitt. With a stretch of his arm into the mouth of a blue, Schmitt can bring to light what may be happening below the water’s surface, issues that began long before he stepped foot on a boat deck.


The density of blue catfish in rivers like the James, grew so much that it became a concern for ecologists and management bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (GIT). This organization, comprised of scientists and managers, along with other groups, saw the catfish as a destructive invasive force.

One common definition of an invasive species is a non-native organism that has a negative impact on the ecology or economic value of the habitat it moved to. GIT was concerned for the native populations of blue crab, American shad, and river herring, all species that have seen drastic declines in the local rivers, and found in the bellies of blue catfish. How many stomachs are full of these species is the subject of debate among scientists, managers, and anglers.

In a 2012 adoption statement called the Invasive Catfish Policy, GIT agreed to develop and implement management measures to mitigate the population growth and expansion across the rivers, look into developing a commercial fishery, and improve scientific understanding of the species and its impact.



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