Ohio River Catfish Information

Ohio River Catfish History
Over the past decade, commercial fishing for catfish in the Ohio River has switched from primarily a harvest for flesh to also harvesting trophy-sized fish to sell to pay lake owners. At the same time, a high quality, primarily catch and release trophy catfish fishery has developed for recreational anglers in the Ohio River, which has led to conflict between recreational anglers and commercial anglers.  Recreational catfish anglers came to KDFWR asking for more stringent regulations for both recreational and commercial anglers, because of a perceived decline in trophy catfish numbers.  KDFWR began looking at some basic population parameters of the three major catfish species (blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish) in the Ohio River beginning in 2004.  The study was initiated to obtain baseline information on length frequency, weight, and age profiles of these three species and determine methods to catch each of these species.  The conflict was again brought up at a commission meeting in 2012 and it was decided that one additional year of intense sampling would be conducted before a decision on potential regulations was made.   
A public meeting was held in October 2013 to present catfish data that had been gathered during this project and discuss potential regulations that may be put in place.  Both recreational and commercial anglers were in attendance and given the opportunity to share their thoughts and suggestions.  In November 2013, the following regulations designed to protect trophy catfish were proposed to the Fisheries Committee:   
Recreational fishermen on the main-stem Ohio River will be allowed one blue catfish ≥35.0 in, one flathead catfish ≥35.0 in, and one channel catfish ≥28.0 in.  Harvest of fish below their respective length limits will not be regulated.
The majority of commercial anglers fishing in the legal waters of the Ohio River and its tributaries will be allowed one blue catfish ≥35.0 in, one flathead catfish ≥35.0 in, and one channel catfish ≥28.0 in per day.  However, 44 commercial anglers that harvested over 10,000 lbs of catfish in at least 2 of the last 3 years along with an additional six commercial anglers who will be chosen by a lottery drawing will be allowed a daily harvest of four (in aggregate) blue catfish and flathead catfish ≥40.0 in and channel catfish ≥30.0 inches in Kentucky’s portion of the Ohio River and its tributaries open to commercial fishing below Cannelton Lock and Dam.  Harvest of fish below their respective length limits will not be regulated.
After hearing comments from stakeholders in attendance and discussion with the fisheries director, the committee voted unanimously to pass the proposed regulations on to the full commission.  The regulations were passed by the full commission at their meeting in December 2013.  In June 2014, the regulation was made law; however, an injunction on the regulation was filed by commercial fishermen shortly after its enactment and regulations on commercial fishermen were not enforceable until December 1, 2014.   
Accusations by recreational anglers that overharvest was still occurring surfaced again in 2018.  Multiple meetings were held with KDFWR staff, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, and paylake owners all present to work towards another compromise.  Several regulations were proposed and submitted for review.  At the time of this report the following regulations have been made law:
 The number of commercial fishers awarded trophy permits was reduced to 15 (previously 50).
There will be no more than two licensed commercial fisherman per boat.  If more are present, they may only keep a two limits of trophy catfish.
A possession limit (twice the daily limit) was placed on trophy catfish for commercial fishers.  This applies when on the water and when trailering fish.

KDFWR has remained active on the river conducting standardized field sampling for catfish by means of trotlines, hoop nets, electrofishing, commercial ride-alongs, and collecting data from tournaments.

Catfish Sampling
Trotlines—No trotline sampling was conducted due to above average river levels in July along with staff shortages throughout the sampling period.
KDFWR hoop netting—Catch rate of channel catfish was 2.4 fish/net-night and has continually decreased since 2017.  Flathead catfish CPUE was 0.8 fish/net night, a decrease from 1.8 fish/net-night in 2019.  Water temperatures were below average during the hoop netting sampling period.  Additionally, water levels were highly variable during sets.  These factors may have had a negative impact on catch rates.
Electrofishing—Blue catfish CPUE (17.9 fish/hr) was the lowest since 2016 and decreased for the third straight year, but was still above the historical average (CPUE = 17.2 fish/hr). CPUE of flathead catfish was 41.7 fish/hr, which was a decrease from record highs in 2020 but still the third highest catch rate since 2004.​

Ohio River Annual Sampling Reports