The opportunity to once again catch heavyweight blue cats like this has Pennsylvania anglers excited.
When blues released in the Ohio River mature, they will be the largest gamefish in the
Commonwealth, often outweighing striped bass, carp, muskies and flathead catfish.
Keystone State Blues Making a Comeback
by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has embarked on an ambitious project to restore native blue catfish populations to the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny river systems.
There was a time many years ago when you might have caught a giant blue catfish in the Three Rivers area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Blues swam throughout the Ohio and Monongahela rivers then, as well as lower portions of the Allegheny River. Unfortunately, industrial water pollution and habitat changes led to their demise in the Keystone State in the early 1900s. Blue catfish have been absent from the entire state for around 125 years now.
That could change soon thanks to a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) reintroduction project. Water quality in the Three Rivers has improved immensely over the past 50 years thanks to the cleanup of industrial-plant discharges, sewage releases and mine drainage, and agency biologists believe that releasing tens of thousands of fingerling blue cats into these waterways should ultimately establish a self-sustaining, naturally reproducing population. After several years growth, some of these fish may reach 60 pounds or more, providing a welcome trophy component to area fisheries. Because blue catfish feed actively year-round, even during the coldest months, they also have the potential to provide excellent wintertime fishing opportunities for big fish.
The restocking effort, several years in the planning stage, began last fall with the release of 40,000 three- to five-inch-long fingerlings into the Ohio River and will continue with 10,000 eight-inch-long yearling blues turned out during the summer of 2023. The population will be monitored to determine their growth rates in the river and the time it takes for them to become trophy size. Biologists say, as a native species, the blue cats should be able to coexist with other fish with minimal problems.
It is important to note that this plan pertains specifically to the PFBC-led restoration of blue catfish in the Three Rivers only. Blue catfish are a large, riverine species not considered native to the numerous lakes in the Ohio River basin. As such, stocking will not be considered for these waterbodies. Additionally, blue catfish are not native to the Atlantic Slope basins in Pennsylvania including the Delaware River, Potomac River, Susquehanna River and Lake Erie, and are considered highly invasive outside their native range. Adverse impacts have affected fisheries where non-native blue cats have been introduced, including predation on threatened or endangered native species and commercially or recreationally valuable species. It is illegal for individuals to stock blue catfish into any water of the Commonwealth.