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DNR pulls 2,500 flatheads from Satilla
A scientist holds a flathead catfish. - photo by University of Oklahoma photograph
WAYCROSS — Since the completion of the tagging portion of the flathead catfish project in April and as of Aug. 3, biologists and technicians have removed 2,572 flathead catfish from the Satilla River.
That’s more than a whopping 15,218 pounds of fish removed via electro-fishing methods. The flatheads were illegally introduced into the Satilla in the 1990s and the resulting decline in this historically well-known redbreast fishery is an issue that biologists with the Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division are continuing to tackle.
The WRD Satilla River Flathead Catfish Project team is searching for a way to either reduce the dominance or even eliminate the flathead catfish from the Satilla. Due to the predatory characteristics of the flatheads, the survival of native fish species, such as the redbreast sunfish and the bullhead catfish, is at risk.
Based on preliminary research of similar U.S. studies concerning the restoration of native fish species, WRD determined that high exploitation of flatheads could provide an avenue for native fish recovery. So, following the March 2007 tagging study, on April 25, biologists began removing them.
The electro-fishing equipment generates a low frequency electrical current into the black Satilla waters, stunning the fish and causing them to float to the surface. Biologists will continue to use this method until a more effective method is determined.
Other methods currently being researched include the possible introduction of a triploid (3 chromosome) flathead catfish into the river to potentially limit reproduction or reduce the genetic fitness of the population. However, several years of genetic research are likely necessary to determine the safety and effectiveness of this method.
During the spring of 2006, DNR selected fish under 36 inches long for fish tissue contaminant analysis, covering mercury and other metals, PCBs and organochlorine pesticides. Mercury was found to be the dominant contaminant and further collections for testing were scheduled.
The 2007 Update, Guidelines For Eating Fish From Georgia Waters was published in April prior to the availability of these additional data for consumption guidance. So DNR has issued an addendum to the 2007 Update for Satilla River flathead catfish. DNR advises people to restrict consumption of flatheads less than 30 inches long to one meal per month, and a do not eat advisory for longer fish. Because there is considerable variation in how much mercury these large predatory fish contain, people who are considered to be especially sensitive to mercury (pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children), may wish to limit consumption further.
Flathead tagging is ongoing and WRD asks anglers to mail in any recovered flathead catfish tags (bright orange) to the WRD Waycross office:  Georgia DNR, P.O. Box 2089, Waycross, GA, 31502-2089. Include your name, address, phone number, the date of catch, the catch location, the length and weight of the fish and whether the fish was harvested or released (preferably harvested). Tags may also be hand-delivered to the Waycross Fisheries Office at 108 Darling Avenue.
The Satilla Riverkeeper and Georgia Wildlife Federation organizations have helped develop this project and continue to work closely with WRD on this issue.
Unauthorized release of flathead catfish or any other fish species into public waters is illegal in Georgia. Violators can be prosecuted. Exotic species can and often do hurt native fish. Those knowledgeable of illegal fish stocking are asked to report violations to any WRD Fisheries Management office or call 1-800-241-4113.
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