Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | February 1, 2018
From Missouri Conservationist: February 2018

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Fisheries Management

Fish-Tag Rewards

Study of blue catfish and flathead catfish exploitation rates will help MDC increase the quality of Missouri and Mississippi river fisheries

When Resource Scientist Kyle Winders receives a fish tag, he gives the angler a call and then sends a follow-up report. “Anglers show a lot of interest in how many fish were tagged, the results, and the knowledge we’ll gain from this study.”

The tag-reward study aims to assess exploitation rates for blue catfish and flathead catfish on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. “One of the big questions is to estimate what percentage of the fish population is harvested every year,” Winders said.

To answer this question, Winders and his team electrofished blue catfish and flathead catfish from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Then they tagged the fish with rewards of $25 or $150 and a phone number for reporting tags.

“The difference in reward values will help us calculate nonreporting,” Winders said. His team reckons the higher reward value will prompt more tag returns.

The study’s data will help MDC determine whether to adjust regulations to meet management objectives. One objective is to maintain or increase the number of large blue catfish and flathead catfish — for example, those that are 20 pounds or heavier.

On the Mississippi River, where commercial harvest is permitted, another objective is to increase yield or total weight of fish available for harvest. Commercial angler Dale Gibler fishes the Mississippi. “I think it’s neat,” he said of the tag-reward program. “I’m a big duck hunter, so it’s like shooting a banded duck. It helps track the population.”

The final report will be completed in 2019, but the study is funded to reward all returned tags.

Fish-Tagging Study at a Glance

  • Dates of Study: 2015–2019
  • Goal: Improve quality of Missouri and Mississippi river fisheries

Annual Harvest Rates

(These are preliminary estimates and likely to change)

Missouri River

  • Blue Catfish - 10%
  • Flathead Catfish - 12%

Mississippi River

  • Blue Catfish - 12%
  • Flathead Catfish - 14%

Browse more research projects at

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler