Catfish schizophrenia

New Catfish Disorder May Become an Epidemic

Ictaluridae schizophrenia (also known as catfish schizophrenia or simply Ichtizophrenia) is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with this disorder may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling. Children and subadult rarely exhibit signs of ichtizophrenia. Rather, it appears to develop after years of exposure to large catfish. Catfish are among the top five fish targeted by sport anglers, and as such they are frequently stocked in public waters. But the popularity of catfish, combined with “invasive” labels, contribute to ichtizophrenia.

Symptoms include a number of psychotic behaviors. Sufferers may “lose touch” with some aspects of reality. Hallucinations, delusions, or other thought disorders may occur. Eventually, emotions and behavior change and the person experiences reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities, and reduced speaking. For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle, but for others, they are more severe and patients may notice changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking. Symptoms include: (1) poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions); (2) trouble focusing or paying attention; and (3) problems with “working memory” (the ability to use information immediately after learning it).

Ichtizophrenia is rampant in catfish management in parts of the United States. It appears to paralyze our ability to take timely management action, leaving task of setting of a management vision to journalists, bloggers, and restauranteurs.

Consider, for example, the experiences of a non-affected individual. S/he starts fishing for blue catfish in the James River below Hog Island. Here s/he may catch and possess all the catfish without a daily limit and may fish with a freshwater or saltwater fishing license. If one motors upstream above Hog Island, however, s/he will need a freshwater fishing license. But the limits remain the same. Only if s/he motors above the 14th Street Bridge, the possession limit is 20 per day.

Commercial harvesters, until recently, reported all catfish harvest without regard to identity. Most other commercial and recreational fishes are monitored and managed at the species or management unit levels. Commercial harvesters can market and sell the very same fish whose PCB, mercury, or kepone levels warrant consumption advisories from the Virginia Department of Health.

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Anglers who catch catfish in Maryland are asked to keep and kill any blue or flathead catfish. But if this angler catches a channel catfish in DC waters, a 12 inch length and creel limit of 3 per day applies. The irony here is that blue and flathead catfish are labeled as "invasives" while channel catfish are protected, yet all three species are non-native transplants from the Mississippi River basin. These same waters also support catfish with many cancerous tumors, caused by PAHs in the environment.

Flathead catfish is both the "most biologically harmful of all fish introductions" as well as a popular sport fish. “The wild blue catfish is one of the greatest environmental threats the Chesapeake Bay has ever faced,” said Tim Sughrue, executive vice president of a Jessup, Maryland, seafood company and a former waterman and biologist. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission resolved, in summer 2011, that "all practicable efforts should be made to reduce the population level and range of non-native invasive species." Resolution is on page 11 of this newsletter.

In January 2012, the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team executive committee adopted an Invasive Catfish Policy statement. It is now 2016 and practical efforts are not in place. What are the practicable efforts to reduce catfish? What management measures have been enacted? The resolution was passed with little public involvement and generated immediate reaction from James River anglers. Further, ongoing efforts to restore the American Shad also support passage of the catfish to upstream reaches. Efforts to “control” populations of the introduced flathead catfish that virtually wiped out the prized redbreast sunfish in southeast Georgia rivers proved unsuccessful. Intense harvest of the flathead catfish was compensated for with earlier maturation and faster growth. After years of intense efforts at removal of the flathead catfish from the Satilla River, a second catfish, the blue catfish has captured in 2011. Blue catfish are on the move.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission, in a state-sanctioned experiment, has permitted one harvester to use low frequency electrofishing to harvest catfish. The method is very effective at targeting only catfish and easier than alternatives, such as gill nets or hoop nets, the gears typically used by other catfish harvesters. Is this application of electrofishing a dangerous precedent or an appropriate measured response to the invasive catfish? It’s highly controversial to say the least.

What's a manager to do?

FIRST. Catfish management must be a priority in the region. Catfish are here, they are on the move, and we have to deal with them.

SECOND. We need to conduct a management strategy evaluation and institute regulations and innovative removal technologies, to derive some benefits from catfish and minimize undesirable effects of catfish on native fishes. Each catfish is different and should be managed differently! Catfishing is a popular outdoor activity. It is unfortunate that others have taken the name, catfishing, to mean something else. The urban dictionary defines "A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." Catfish marketing, control, and management should have higher priority in the region.

THIRD. We need to work collaboratively to alleviate the Ictaluridae schizophrenia as we work to develop novel strategies and acceptable objectives for holistic management of fishes, including the non-indigenous catfish across multiple jurisdictions. Stakeholders must help set management goals, and some will want to develop a sustainable business of harvesting and selling catfish, while others will prefer to target trophy size catfish. Einstein once wrote that "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Today, we need to re-think catfish, catfishing, and management options to address problems.

By Don Orth (with tongue in cheek)

Source: All italicized sections were taken directly from the National Institute of Mental Health

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