Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Giving Fish a Hand

Big catfish like this are coming back, thanks to regulations from MDC.  In the 1800s, 100+ pound catfish were common reported.  Unrestricted fishing depleted the stock since then.  Altering the river channels for flood control and commercial river traffic and heavy harvesting over the last 100 years has kept catfish from reaching their full growth potential. Recent management efforts have made large catfish more common. Our hope is that, one day, 100-pound catfish may be fairly common again.
Handfishing, called noodling, has been illegal since 1919 in Missouri.  Leaning over a bank or wading in a shallow stream, the fisherman reaches into the fishes mouth and pulls it out.  This is an effective method of catching big catfish in the summer while they are on the nest, a period in which they ignore bait and traditional fishing methods.  See the video.
Noodling has a long history described in the MDC article on catfish.   Noodling selectively removes large, sexually mature fish from their nests, leaving the eggs unguarded and therefore reducing the numbers of new catfish.  Large catfish, like many other species are the most successful at reproduction.  By prohibiting noodling, we gave the species a hand and large catfish began to appear again.  Fishing regulations help insure that the fish population remains stable for fishermen in the future.

Not all fish need a hand from humans.  The current National Geographic describes a new species of fish with hands.  Nine species of Pink Hand Fish have all been found in the shallow waters off of Australia.  Only four specimens of this particular four-inch long species have been found.  They use their "hands" to walk along the bottom rather than swim.

The hand fish are completely different from the Walking Catfish  that were dramatically reported in the press in past years.   They are native to Southeast Asia where they thrive in stagnant water with low oxygen levels.  Recently they have been brought to the US where they inhabit ponds and ditches that are low on oxygen, frequently coming to the surface of grab some fresh air.  When conditions are too bad for survival, they can "walk" across land for some distance to find a better water source.  They "walk" by wiggling on land while using their pectoral fins to stay on their belly, as seen in this video.

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