Blue catfish, an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, presents environmental challenges in the Bay watershed for a number of native species. Catfish prey on a variety of Bay species, while nothing in our watershed preys on it. Population numbers have grown in recent years, as was highlighted in a post from this summer. (See here).
So what exactly are catfish eating in Bay waters? Researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) are examining catfish stomach contents to find out for sure.
Identifying stomach contents from physical remains, such as bones and scales, and through DNA barcoding, SERC has identified that catfish are eating rockfish, white perch, American shad, alewife and blueback herring. Some of these native species, such as shad and rockfish, have been the target of conservation programs in Maryland and Virginia, as these states try to sustain healthy populations of these finfish.
While shad abundance is up, as of this spring, should population numbers drop below restoration goals in the future, dealing with the catfish issue in the Chesapeake will become even more important.