JJ McDonnell working to solve Chesapeake Bay’s blue catfish problem

A fishermen pulling in a catch of blue catfish, alongside another photo of some blue catfish on a table.

Decades ago, anglers looking for a fun and challenging species to catch in the rivers of the western shores of the U.S. state of Virginia decided to bring blue catfish – a species native to Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and the Rio Grande river basins – into the region’s rivers. 

Anglers introduced the species to the James, Rappahannock, and York rivers in Virginia, under the belief that the species could only survive in very fresh water, and thus would be unlikely to spread between rivers. That belief, as it turns out, was completely wrong – blue catfish is tolerant enough of semi-fresh water that it quickly left the rivers into which it was introduced and made its way into the Chesapeake Bay. After that, it moved into several other rivers in the region and native species were harmed as the blue catfish's voracious appetite scrambled food webs.. Now, blue catfish account for up to 75 percent of the biomass in many of Virginia's rivers.

J.J. McDonnell Business Development Manager Stephanie Pazzaglia said during a panel presentation at the National Fisheries Institute Global Seafood Market Conference, held in La Quinta, California, U.S.A. from 15 to 19 January, that her company is working to build a market for blue catfish with the goal of reducing its population and helping local fishers – colloquially known in the region as watermen.

“We probably started selling blue catfish 10 or more years ago, however, building that market is the biggest challenge, as in Maryland, it generally isn’t one of the most-popular fish,” Pazzaglia said. “Educating and telling the story really was and is a big part of the work we do – it’s outreach and education on blue catfish and telling this story.”

Without an established market for blue catfish ... 

Photos courtesy of J.J. McDonnell 

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