Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks Blue Catfish Regulation Changes Proposed
The Missouri Conservation Commission approved proposed changes to the daily, possession, and length limits for blue catfish on Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Reservoir, and their tributaries at their meeting on March 11, 2013.
Approved changes include the following:
- Ten blue catfish daily
- A protected slot-length limit of 26-34 inches (7-16 pounds)
- Fish within the slot must be returned to the water unharmed immediately.
- Two blue catfish larger than 34 inches
- These two fish would count toward the daily limit of 10.
The approved changes will be filed with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office this fall and a 30-day public comment period will be held. Following consideration of comments received, the approved changes will either be withdrawn, modified, or finalized, with an anticipated effective date of 3/1/14.
MDC appreciates your interest and input toward helping make Missouri a better place to fish.
Concern about harvest numbers
For a number of years MDC staff have been concerned about potential overharvest of blue catfish in Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks, especially larger blue catfish. Anglers have also expressed concern about the decline in the numbers of large blue catfish.
In our 2002 Statewide Catfish Angler Survey, about 35 percent of respondents indicated the quality of catfishing at Truman Reservoir had declined over the last 10 years, while about 12 percent indicated catfishing had improved. Almost 28 percent reported that catfishing quality had stayed the same, and about 25 percent reported they didn’t know.
MDC staff also documented very high harvest and slow growth of blue catfish at Truman Reservoir during our Reservoir Catfish Evaluation Project from 2004 to 2008. Research showed a blue catfish harvest rate two-to-three-times higher than reported in similar studies nationwide.
MDC convened a working group in 2009 to address the problem.
Harvest pressure keeps blues from reaching full growth
In comparison to most other game fish species, catfish (especially blue and flathead) are extremely long-lived and slow growing. Blues and flatheads can easily live 30 years with weights approaching or even exceeding 100 pounds.
Due to high fishing pressure and angler harvest, the numbers of larger blue catfish in Truman and Lake of the Ozarks have steadily declined since the mid-1990s. These conditions are preventing blue catfish from reaching their full growth potential.
It takes a blue catfish in Truman and Lake of the Ozarks about 15 years to reach 31 inches in length and a weight of about 12 pounds. A 15-year-old blue catfish that is 31 inches today can easily live another 10 to 15 years and reach 60 or 80 pounds. For that to happen, however, we have to make sure that anglers don’t harvest them all. Our data indicate that anglers are harvesting too many blue catfish before they reach their growth potential.
For slow-growing fish such as blue catfish, once a decline occurs, it takes a significant amount of time to start reversing the trend and rebuilding the population.
A community-supported solution
In May 2010, MDC held stakeholder meetings to discuss potential regulation changes. Those in attendance included recreational and tournament anglers, catfishing guides, organized catfish angler groups, bait shop and marina owners, media representatives, judges and prosecuting attorneys, local chambers of commerce, state representatives and other government and non-government groups such as the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ameren UE.
The majority of attendees were in favor of potential regulations. Since these meetings, MDC staff continue to receive and document public input. Several comments suggested alternatives to the potential regulation changes presented. We have been responsive to public input and developed the new set of regulation options that address many of those concerns.
In, August 2012, MDC held three open houses to present the new regulation options, provide background information, answer questions, and gather comments. About 200 people attended the three open houses, with many of them filling out comment cards. MDC’s comment page is also open allowing the public to make comments.
Goals of potential regulations
- Protect medium-size blue catfish and increase the number of larger blue catfish.
- Increase harvest of smaller blue catfish below protected slot length to with the goal of improving growth.
- Retain catfish anglers on the affected waters.
- Maintain good relations with non-angling stakeholders.
- Continue to promote local catfishing based economy.
The desired results
The potential regulation changes would provide harvest protection for medium-size blue catfish, which are currently being harvested at an excessive rate. This protection will allow more blue catfish to reach larger sizes.
Doubling the daily limit from 5 to 10 will also encourage the harvest of smaller blue catfish. The numbers of smaller blue catfish in both reservoirs are adequate to allow for additional harvest. Encouraging more harvest of smaller blue catfish has the potential to reduce competition among blue catfish, which may actually improve growth. Encouraging the harvest of smaller blue catfish will still allow anglers to take fish home for the table.
Based on biological projections, the number of fish harvested would remain similar or increase compared to existing conditions. With added protection for medium-size blue catfish, we project the numbers of larger blue catfish to increase.
Should a new regulation be adopted, a long-term evaluation of the regulation will be conducted. Because of the slow growth exhibited by blue catfish, it will take at least seven or eight years before the population will start to show any significant response to the regulation.