CATFISH CONSERVATION -Trophy Catfish for the Future
by Ron Presley
Concerned Catfish Anglers Make Trip to Frankfort in Support of Stricter Regulations
The struggle is real for long time catfish anglers on the Ohio River. Those anglers who know and love the river for what it was in the past are convinced that the future is bleak if something is not done to support the trophy catfish population. These anglers describe a river in decline and their fishing experiences show it. They have been reporting for years on the decline of big catfish in areas where they were once plentiful.
Without a good population of large catfish, anglers become reluctant to travel long distances to fish, either recreationally or for tournament competition. Local communities will feel the pain because these anglers and their families do not come to town and spend their money. They won’t be filling their gas tanks, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, or shopping in general.
Owensboro, KY resident, Aaron Wheatley, has been engaged in the struggle for years. He and others identified the problem a long time ago and have fought hard to get stricter regulations that would protect the catfish.
Wheatley is tournament director for Monsters on the Ohio, a catfish tournament now in its ninth year of operation. The tournament is known as one of the premiere catfish tournaments in the region and a benchmark for other tournaments to follow.
Wheatley has observed firsthand what has happened over the years in the Ohio River. He fears that regulators are not looking far enough into the past to gauge the true impact of lax regulations on catfish.
“We need tournament data from at least 10 years ago,” suggested Wheatley. “The older the better. Unlike the data from a river that had already been damaged that’s been collected by Fish and Wildlife over the past 5 years, we need data from before the trophy cats started ending up in pay lakes. We need the data from when the Ohio River and its tributaries where one of the top three cat fisheries in the country. We are a far cry from that now.”
Many catfish anglers are joining the fight and believe that Kentucky can do more through regulations to help turn the situation around. Many of them showed up at a recent meeting where regulations were discussed.
About 130 catfish anglers showed up in Frankfort to support proposals seeking stricter regulations. Many wore blue t-shirts with an image of a catfish and the words, Protect, Preserve, Promote, printed on the front. They were well organized, courteous, and determined to have their voices heard. Their presentations were thoughtful and professional as one after another went to the mic to make their points.
The proposals to be considered were the result of a workgroup that included two catfish anglers, two paylake reps, two commercial fishing reps, state legislators, and KDFWR staff and Commissioners. The goal of the workgroup was to find common ground between the different entities.
“The August 17 meeting had the four Commissioners that serve on the fisheries committee present,” reported Scott Cress who had joined Chris Debow as the two catfish anglers serving on the workgroup. “The goal of that meeting was to advance proposed regs as it relates to fishing to the September meeting where all nine commissioners will be present to vote. From there it goes to the legislature.”
A successful outcome would include limiting the number of catfish in paylakes and outlawing transportation of trophy catfish across state lines.
“We were able to advance the full agenda as proposed with some slight tweaks,” continued Cress. “We did not get an up/down vote on the no transport law, but we are being led to believe it will be added and we do have support.”
The Next Meeting
The next meeting of the commissioners had been set for September 7, 2018. At the time of this writing, the meeting had been postponed due to some unexpected changes in the commission. The meeting is currently scheduled for September 28, 2018, with the location to be determined.
Catfish anglers across the spectrum will be watching to see what happens in Kentucky.