River rules to be weighed for preserving catfish

Monday, July 30, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
John Young and Jared Wehmeyer head back to the boat landing on the Missouri River after a good night of catfishing. Upcoming meetings will discuss potential regulation changes to improve the quality of catfishing and its ability to remain as fruitful in the future.

Columbia — In Missouri, catfish are the third most desirable fish to catch, closely following bass and crappie. Catfishing, as both a competitive sport and casual pastime, has grown tremendously over the last decade. It’s because of this intense popularity that mid-Missouri catfishermen may be finding their sport in the midst of change — but not without their input first.

“We’re trying to create a few very high quality and unique catfisheries in the state,” said Kevin Sullivan, a catfish resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Meeting times and locations

• Columbia: Tuesday at Boone Electric Cooperative • Boonville: Aug. 7 at Laura Speed Elliot Middle School • Glasgow: Aug. 9 at Glasgow High School • Marshall: Aug. 16 at Marshall High School
All meetings will be from 7 to 9 p.m. If you cannot attend any of the meetings, the Missouri Department of Conservation encourages you to voice your opinion by calling the Central Regional Office at 884-6861, the Central Office Headquarters at 751-4115 or by going to its Web site at To read the four options for proposed regulations, go to Options for Proposed Regulations All proposed regulations only apply to blue and flathead catfish. Making no changes to the current regulations is also an option. 1) 30-inch minimum length limit on both species with a combined daily limit of 2 catfish. 2) 30-inch length limit and one daily limit for each species (one of each). 3) Daily limit of one of each species 30 inches or larger, and a daily limit of one under 30 inches. This would allow a combined daily limit of 4 catfish. 4) 20- to 30-inch slot length limit (meaning that fish between 20 and 30 inches cannot be kept) with a combined daily limit of 2 catfish.

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The 82-mile stretch of the Missouri River between Glasgow and Jefferson City, as well as segments of the Lamine River and the Blackwater River, are being considered by the Conservation Department as a potential area to catch trophy-sized fish. More stringent regulations have been suggested for this area and are meant to elevate the quality of catfishing in that segment of the river.

The idea for a Catfish Management Plan was first proposed in 2003 by the Conservation Department and further supported by Missouri catfishermen in a series of meetings that were held on the issue. Another series of meetings will be held in the coming weeks to include input from fishermen in the plan’s next step — the drafting of possible regulations.

The public will have the opportunity to voice their opinion at each meeting during a 45-minute open mic session and through written suggestions, Sullivan said. Ideas can also be submitted via the Conservation Department Web site.

All suggestions and input are welcome, including recommendations for no change at all in the current regulations, Sullivan said.

This corridor of the Missouri River was chosen because it is centrally located in the state and doesn’t have any border waters with surrounding states, Sullivan said. Also, since it is centrally located, it’s easy for people to get to it.

The purpose of the trophy area is to create a section of the river where fishermen can catch larger catfish. By reducing the number of fish that are being taken out, and placing a limit on their length, every fish that’s being caught isn’t being kept, said Robyn Raisch, the department’s Boone County conservation agent. Research has shown that this allows for fish that are thrown back to get bigger and for the population of bigger fish to grow larger in that area of the river, he said. The department doesn’t arbitrarily make changes.

“Most things have a reason why, and they’re backed up by research,” Raisch said.

But not all fishermen may agree with the science behind the size and number reductions in the proposed regulations.

“It looks to me, the response (to the new regulations) is about 50/50,” Raisch said. “We’re going to have to just wait and see.”

The mixed responses are also accompanied by a great deal of confusion, said Tim Grace, the Conservation Department’s fisheries regional supervisor for the central region.

“The greatest fear is that we will be proposing to get rid of set-line fishing, which isn’t true,” Grace said.

The department is not suggesting any changes in regard to set-lines, like trout lines, or for channel catfish, which will remain at the current limit of 10, Grace said.

Adam Wolf, owner of Tombstone Tackle, said that the real issue is going to be the number of fish a person can keep since “virtually no one” throws back fish larger than 30 inches anyway.

The intent of the meetings is to straighten out misunderstandings like these. But, since the facts have been shrouded by misconceptions and rumors, for many people, impassioned arguments against the regulations could be premature.

“Everyone’s kind of getting worked up over this, and there’s really nothing to get worked up over because they haven’t even set any rules,” Wolf said. “Nothing has been set in stone yet.”

Fishermen in support of stricter regulations, like John Young, a local competitive catfisherman, recognize that the suggested regulations would help address the issue of overfishing and protect catfish populations for the future.

“It’s not a renewable resource,” Young said. “It is to a degree, but you could easily fish a hole out. It don’t take long.”

The current regulations allow 10 channel catfish and five of both blue and flathead catfish to be kept. Anglers keeping such a large amount of fish on a regular basis leads Wolf to believe that the river really needs help.

“There are many people fishing the river now and keeping so many fish out that I think the point may come It may not be five years from now or 10 years from now or 15 years from now, but the point could come where there’s not hardly any fish compared to what there are now,” Wolf said.

If one of the four regulation options is made into law, the earliest they would be implemented is March 2009, due to the department regulations process, Sullivan said. It won’t be something that is enacted immediately, he said.

Whether new regulations are agreed upon or not, Wolf urges that everyone listen to what the Conservation Department is suggesting and keep an open mind.

“They’re trying to help the river,” Wolf said. “They’re not out doing anything to harm the river, so let’s listen to them. They know more about it than we do. That’s what a lot of guys are going to have a hard time realizing. They have done more studies. They know more than we do.”

Wolf hopes that people will attend the meetings and use them as a chance to reach a happy medium that will not only be positive for the fishery but also satisfactory for the fishermen.

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