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Public invited to comment on catfish management plan

The plan aims to increase the size and number of Missouri catfish.

JEFFERSON CITY--Missouri may never again produce a catfish like the one taken from the Missouri River near Portland in 1866. It weighed 315 pounds. Two years later, two anglers landed one near Hermann that tipped the scales at 242 pounds.

"Those days are long past," said Steve Eder, fisheries field operations chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Chances are good that we won't ever see catfish that large again, but the new catfish management plan we have drafted may increase your chances to land a big catfish - a really big catfish."

The Conservation Department is unveiling the draft plan at six public meetings this fall. Dates, locations and times are:
--Sept. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Quality Inn and Suites Conference Center in Hannibal;
--Sept. 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the St. Louis Regional Office (Busch Conservation Area), St. Charles;
--Sept. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Southeast Regional Office in Cape Girardeau;
--Sept. 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Parma Woods Training Center in Parkville;
--Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Conservation Department's Clinton office;
--Oct. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Resource Science Center on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.

The Conservation Department and other agencies conducted surveys among catfish anglers in 2001 and 2002 to learn their opinions and angling preferences. In one survey, almost 75 percent were in favor or strongly in favor of developing trophy catfishing opportunities. In another survey, nearly a third of respondents said catfishing in Missouri had declined in the last 10 years.

At the same time, catfish anglers complained about the number of small catfish and the lack of large catfish being harvested in major impoundments, such as Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks.
The draft catfish management plan addresses both issues, proposing new regulations intended to diversify and improve the quality of catfish angling in the state. The plan also calls for giving anglers more where-to-go information and learning their views on catfish management.

One of the proposed regulations would restrict the harvest of blue catfish statewide, while continuing to allow a liberal harvest of channel catfish. Survey results indicated that trophy anglers prefer flatheads and blues, whereas non-trophy anglers prefer channel catfish. This would allow blues more time to grow while permitting a continued liberal harvest of channel cats.

Another proposed regulation change would establish a special management area on the Missouri River with a minimum length limit on flathead catfish. Fisheries biologists believe a 30-inch length limit would produce a five-fold increase in the number of flatheads that are at least 34 inches long. The proposal would not apply to channel or blue catfish.

The plan also proposes changes in harvest regulations on blue and channel catfish in large impoundments where anglers say the quality of catfish angling is declining. An ongoing catfish research study at Truman and other large reservoirs will help shape potential new regulations at selected reservoirs.

Catfish anglers are invited to share their views about these and other proposed catfish management changes at the public meeting nearest them. They may receive a copy of the draft catfish management plan by contacting: Fisheries Division, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, 65109-0180, telephone 573-522-4115, ext. 3594.

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