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Catfish, Blue (Ictalurus furcatus)
Also known as: Blue channel catfish, Forktail cat, Fulton, Humpback blue, White cat, White fulton
Source: Wild-caught in freshwater and coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana

Blue catfish are native to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins of central and southern United States. They live in Gulf Coast streams from Alabama south to Mexico, northern Guatemala, and Belize. They have also been introduced into other areas and are considered “invasive” in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay.

Blue catfish are a “large-river fish”—they like deep, flowing water and are most common in open waters of large reservoirs and main channels, tributaries, and impoundments of major river systems. Although a freshwater fish, they also thrive in brackish water. They live over various water bottoms, from gravel and sand to silt and mud.

Blue catfish sexually mature around age four of five, or when they’re about two feet long. They spawn from April through June, when water temperatures are at least 70°F. The female lays a mass of eggs in hollow spaces in logs, between rocks, or in other sheltered structures. The male fertilizes the eggs and guards the nest until the eggs hatch and the young leave the nest (after about a week). Blue catfish are very productive—females lay about 10,000 to 60,000 eggs per year.

Blue catfish grow rapidly throughout their lives. In fact, they’re one of the largest catfish in North America and one of the largest freshwater fish. They can grow up to nearly 100 pounds and 5-1/2 feet. There are even reports in the late 1800s of fishermen landing blue catfish larger than 350 pounds from the Mississippi River. However, blue catfish are more common at 20 to 40 pounds and 25 to 40 inches long. They can live up to 20 or 30 years.

Blue catfish are opportunistic omnivores and will eat anything readily accessible. Adults mainly eat fish and shellfish. Blue catfish have few predators, besides birds and other catfish.

Blue catfish look pretty similar to channel catfish, but they do not have dark spots on their back or sides. Their color varies, depending on water quality—they’re typically slate blue on the back shading to white on the belly. Immature blue catfish are usually more silver or silver-white than adults (where they get the name “white cat”). Their tail is deeply forked—in fact, their species name furcatus is Latin for forked. They have large, flat heads and down-turned mouths, adapted for feeding on the bottom. They have a hump on their backs in front of the dorsal fin and long, slim barbels on their chin, like a cat’s whiskers.

One of the largest freshwater sportfish in North America, blue catfish are a favorite among recreational fishermen. In the southern United States, commercial fishermen also built a major market for catfish in the first half of the 20th century. With the rise of catfish farms (mostly channel catfish) in the mid-1960s, demand for wild-caught catfish subsided. As catfish farming has declined in recent years due to rising operating costs, the market for wild-caught catfish is again on the rise, which is good news for wild-caught catfish fans who swear it has a superior flavor.

A great catch and an excellent meal, blue catfish support important commercial and recreational fisheries in fresh and brackish waters throughout the Gulf states, but especially in Louisiana and Texas. In fact, the Gulf states, mainly Louisiana, have supplied an average of about 85 percent of total U.S. blue catfish harvests over the past 20 years. The Gulf states monitor and manage blue catfish populations and fisheries to ensure the resource is healthy and can continue to provide a steady commercial supply and quality recreational fishing opportunities for anglers in the future.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

Historically, most blue catfish harvests in the United States have come from Louisiana and Texas. Over the past 20 years, total U.S. harvests have averaged about 3.7 million pounds; the Gulf states, mainly Louisiana, have accounted for about 82 percent of this. However, in the past decade, harvests from the Chesapeake Bay region have steadily increased. (Blue catfish are not native to this area but were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. As their populations have dramatically risen, managers are encouraging both commercial and recreational fishermen to harvest more of this fish to decrease its impact on the area’s ecosystem and native species.) In 2014, total U.S. harvests were nearly 5.0 million pounds—the Gulf states harvested 58% and the Chesapeake region harvested 41%. Total 2014 harvests were valued at $2.24 million; Gulf harvests were valued at $1.51 million.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

Individual Gulf states monitor blue catfish populations in their respective freshwater areas through biological sampling and surveys. They monitor commercial blue catfish harvests through trip ticket programs—dealers and retailers purchasing blue catfish directly from commercial fishermen submit information pertaining to the catch, including who caught it, where and when it was caught, how much was caught, etc. Commercial fishermen who sell their catch directly to the public are also required to submit trip tickets. The Gulf states collect data on recreational harvests through angler surveys.

Current Abundance

Blue catfish populations vary by waterbody; in general, they are abundant.

Additional Research


Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

Individual Gulf state fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the blue catfish resources in their respective freshwater and coastal areas.

Management Program

Specific management measures vary across the state management authorities. They generally include size and harvest limits designed to conserve catfish populations but maximize fishermen’s opportunities to harvest catfish.