Population Assessment of Channel Catfish in Nebraska

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is an important sport fish, particularly in the Great Plains. In Nebraska, a majority of anglers target channel catfish, and fishing activities are a vital part of the state's economy. Lentic water bodies provide the primary fishing opportunity for catfish anglers in Nebraska. Despite the popularity and economic importance of channel catfish, little is known of its population dynamics or habitat requirements, and existing studies often profile river populations.


Current standards for sampling channel catfish in lentic systems often yield inadequate catch to assess populations. The objective of this study was to utilize a recently developed sampling method, tandem-set hoop nets, to collect channel catfish in sufficient quantities to describe the effects of stocking and habitat variability on populations in lentic ecosystems. Three lentic ecosystems common to the Great Plains were considered: sand pits, flood-control reservoirs, and irrigation/power-generation reservoirs. This project was completed with a thesis submission and successful defense during January 2012.

Current Status

The influence of stocking on abundance and condition of channel catfish varied with ecosystem type. In sand pits, stocking negatively influenced fish condition, and only stocking on an annual basis positively influenced abundance. In flood-control reservoirs, stocking did not influence fish condition, but was associated with greater abundance. In irrigation/power-generation reservoirs, stocking did not influence fish condition or abundance. Additionally, there was evidence that mortality and growth rates varied with ecosystem type. In general, channel catfish from irrigation/power-generation reservoirs were predicted to experience slower growth and lower mortality, whereas channel catfish from sand pits were predicted to experience the fastest growth and highest mortality.

Catch rates of channel catfish were substantially less in this study compared to previous records of tandem-set hoop net surveys, but hoop nets were more efficient than the current standard gear, experimental gill nets, at capturing channel catfish. That is, 100 channel catfish could be captured with fewer sets of hoop nets than gill nets. However, catch rates and size structure of channel catfish in tandem-set hoop nets varied within the sampling season and between years. Furthermore, length-frequency distributions of channel catfish were dissimilar between hoop nets and gill nets.

Hoop nets (courtesy Lindsey Chizinski)
Hoop nets (courtesy Lindsey Chizinski)
Removing catfish spine (courtesy Lindsey Chizinski)
Removing catfish spine (courtesy Lindsey Chizinski)
Principal Investigator(s)
-Kevin Pope, NE CFWRU

Graduate Student(s)
-Lindsey Chizinski

-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission