PA: Agency: Susquehanna flatheads here to stay

Lancaster, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission has
resigned itself to the fact that flathead catfish are now
established in the Susquehanna River.

“We have a large population of flatheads on the lower Susquehanna,”
said Mike Kauffman, the agency’s southeast region fisheries
biologist. “They’re there and they’re reproducing and there’s
nothing we can do about it.”

Recently, the agency removed from its website a recommendation that
anglers kill every flathead they caught from the river.

“Now that they have spread, we don’t think ‘kill upon capture’ is
an appropriate request of anglers,” said commission spokesman Eric

Anglers now are encouraged to release back into the Susquehanna
flatheads they catch that they don’t want to eat.

“They should treat them like any other game fish when practicing
catch and release,” he said.

It was only in 2002 when the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat
Commission confirmed the existence of flathead catfish in the
Susquehanna River. An angler fishing below Safe Harbor Dam in
Lancaster County caught a 15-inch flathead, photographed it and
sent the photo to the commission for identification.

That photo was visual confirmation of something the agency had
suspected for some time. Flatheads – feared as voracious eaters
that might gobble native fishes into scarcity – had somehow found
their way into the Susquehanna.

Biologists still don’t know how they got there.

Immediately, the commission put out news releases and posted signs
at popular fishing spots along the river begging anglers to kill
every flathead they caught to keep the population in check.

Kauffman said commission data showed that Susquehanna anglers were
able to put significant pressure on other species in the river.
When the agency increased the minimum creel size of smallmouth bass
on the river from 12 to 15 inches several years ago, biologists saw
a marked increase in the number of smallies 12-14 inches.

“That showed us the significant impact angling pressure had on
those fish prior to the change,” Kauffman said.

So the agency hoped anglers could help curb the growth of flathead
populations on the Susquehanna.

“We never thought they’d eradicate flatheads,” Kauffman said. “But
we did think they’d at least slow them down from spreading.”

They were wrong.

“There’s no real sense in continuing to enlist anglers in
controlling the population,” Kauffman said. “They haven’t been able
to do it on the Schuylkill, and on the Susquehanna, if they had any
impact at all, it wasn’t enough to keep flatheads from expanding
their population and range.”

Flatheads now can be found in healthy numbers on the Susquehanna
River below the York Haven Dam.

“We know people occasionally catch them above York Haven, but they
don’t seem to be as widespread,” Kauffman said. “During our
sampling above the dam, we have never caught one.”

Flatheads are prolific breeders, according to Kauffman. They grow
their ranks fast. And individual fish grow to impressive

A 36-pound flathead caught on the Susquehanna last October was
recognized by the commission as one of the biggest of that species
caught anywhere in Pennsylvania in 2010.

In Pennsylvania, flathead catfish are only native to the Ohio,
Allegheny and Monongahela river watersheds in the western part of
the state. They are not native to the eastern half of the state,
where they are now found in the Delaware, Schuylkill and
Susquehanna watersheds.

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