Seasonal Food Habits of Introduced Blue Catfish in Lake Oconee, Georgia

Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) are native to the Coosa River drainage in northwest Georgia but have been widely introduced outside of this range including Lake Oconee, a 7677-ha impoundment on the Oconee River in central Georgia. Blue catfish abundance and growth rates have increased dramatically since their introduction in Lake Oconee, but their food habits are unknown. Therefore, food habits of blue catfish in this impoundment were determined by examining the stomachs of 808 specimens in the reservoir's upper and lower regions across all seasons from summer 2012 to summer 2013. Diet was summarized using the Relative Importance of specific prey by weight. In the upper region of the reservoir, Asian clams (Corbicula fluminea) were the dominant prey item during the summer (75.7%), fall (66.4%), and winter (37.6%); whereas crappie (Pomoxis spp.) was the dominant prey item in the spring (38.7%). Asian clams also were the dominant prey items in the lower region during the fall (68.4%), winter (33.9%), and spring (36.4%). Blue catfish seemed to feed opportunistically on seasonally abundant prey items in both the upper riverine and lower lacustrine portions of the reservoir. Of the many sport fishes in the reservoir, only crappie was an important prey item, and then only in the upper region during the spring. Our results do not support concerns that blue catfish are an apex predator that would decimate the sport fish assemblage in this recently colonized reservoir.

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