Missouri lawmakers to review catfish regulation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Changes aimed at boosting numbers of large blue catfish in Missouri's lakes will be considered by a state Legislature committee.

Conservation officials endorsed a new regulation that would allow anglers to keep more blue catfish but require mid-sized fish to be returned to the water. A House appropriations committee focused on agriculture and natural resources has scheduled a hearing Tuesday at the Capitol.

The catfish regulation was approved by the Conservation Commission in March and submitted to the secretary of state's office in the fall. It is scheduled to take effect this upcoming March.

Department of Conservation spokesman Joe Jerek said the rule would "improve the fishery and ultimately offer better fishing for the many, many anglers who love fishing for blue cats in these waters."

Under the regulation, the daily limit for blue catfish on Truman Lake and the Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries would increase from five fish to 10. Anglers would be permitted two longer than 34 inches and would need to return to the water all blue catfish between 26 inches and 34 inches.

Blue catfish are the largest catfish found in Missouri and can live for 30 years. The current state record-holder was caught in 2010 and weighed 130 pounds. At the Lake of the Ozarks, it can take the fish 15 years to reach 31 inches and about 12 pounds.

Conservation officials say they began to hear concerns in the early 1990s about declining numbers of large blue catfish at Truman Lake. There have been similar concerns more recently at the Lake of the Ozarks.

A three-year baseline population study completed in 2012 found the average blue catfish was 22.8 inches long at Truman and 21.4 inches long at the Lake of the Ozarks. More than 80 percent in both lakes were less than 26 inches and 2 percent were bigger than 34 inches.

Open houses were held last year in Camdenton, Clinton and Warsaw. Conservation officials said many of the submitted comments supported the proposal, though others opposed changes and questioned whether the number of large blue catfish has declined.

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