Diet and Population Metrics of the Introduced Blue Catfish on the Altamaha River, Georgia

Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) were first detected in the Altamaha River, Georgia, during an access creel survey in 2005 and subsequently in 2006 during annual ictalurid sampling. Introduction of this species in the Altamaha River is believed to have occurred via escape from normal upstream reservoir releases from Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee. Relative abundance, as indexed by electrofishing catch rate (fish per hour), has increased from 2.9 ± 1.0 SE in 2006 to 38.8 ± 8.2 SE in 2011. The size of blue catfish captured ranged from 56 to 820 mm total length and 0.001 to 7.7 kg. Using otoliths obtained in 2010 (n = 214), age of fish ranged from 0 to 6 yrs, which indicated a relatively young population. The catch-curve analysis resulted in an instantaneous mortality rate (Z) of 0.75. Despite concerns of blue catfish predation on native fishes and mussels, a diet analysis of blue catfish (n =257) obtained in 2010 revealed that diets of fish in all size groups were dominated by the introduced Asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea). This study describes a recently introduced blue catfish population in an Atlantic coastal plain river and provides insight on possible ecological effects during the early phases of establishment. These results offer an early status assessment of the invasion dynamics before the system has had time to reach a new equilibrium state.

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