Over the past decade, commercial fishing for catfish in the Ohio River has switched from harvest for flesh to 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 efficient 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 mainstem Ohio River will be allowed, per day, one blue catfish greater than 35 inches, one flathead catfish greater than 35 inches, and one channel catfish greater than 28 inches. Harvest of fish below these respective length limits will not be regulated.
The majority of commercial fishermen fishing in the Ohio River and its tributaries where commercial fishing is allowed will be required to follow the same regulations. However, 44 commercial fisherman that harvested over 10,000 lbs. of catfish in at least 2 of the last 3 years along with an additional 6 commercial fishermen who will be chosen by a lottery drawing will be allowed to harvest four (in aggregate) blue and flathead catfish greater than 40 inches and channel catfish greater than 30 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.
The initial report from 2014 is located here