Possession of live catfish banned
12 April 2007
New regulations to control the handling of catfish are designed to protect native fish and the water quality of New Zealand waterways, says Dave Allen, Senior Fisheries Advisor with the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish).
Regulations introduced on April 1 require non-commercial fishers to kill all catfish they catch immediately on capture. At the same time, commercial fishers are only allowed to sell dead catfish.
Mr Allen said catfish are considered undesirable because they stir up sediment and prey on small native fish and fish eggs and are known to eat and compete with native species including freshwater crayfish.
“Catfish are widespread in waterways around Auckland and Waikato and including Lake Taupo. They can survive in a wide range of temperatures, poor water quality and can also survive for long periods out of water. Introduction of handling measures will assist in preventing catfish from extending their range into waters where they are not present.”
Mr Allen said the Fisheries Act 1996 contains obligations to manage the use of catfish and other undesirable species in a way that ensures sustainability of other freshwater species. The new measures have been developed after input from a range of fishery interests over the last few years.
“Commercial fishing regulations have also been amended so that commercial fishers will now only be allowed to possess live catfish up until the first point of sale to a licensed fish receiver.”
People caught breaching the new regulations will be liable to an instant fine of $750. Commercial fishers will be liable to a fine of up to $20,000. The fines for both non-commercial and commercial fishers recognise the environmental risks associated with the distribution of catfish into areas where it may not be presently found.
In addition to the regulatory measures, MFish will be developing a Code of Practice to avoid any catfish life stages, from eggs, juveniles and adults, getting into waterways where they are not currently found. Specifically the Code of Practice is likely to include the cleaning of fishing gear in salt baths and the inspection and cleaning of boats and trailers before leaving boat ramps. Boaties may already be undertaking these checks for other purposes, and it is unlikely to result in any delay from leaving the boat ramp.
Commercial fishers will be encouraged through the Code of Practice to kill catfish that are not destined for sale. The new regulatory controls will still allow use of catfish in a dead state, and are intended to encourage people to be more aware of the potential risks of accidentally transferring live catfish.
Brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) were introduced to New Zealand in 1877 to Auckland waters, and since then their numbers and range have extended significantly throughout the North Island. They are now widespread in the Waikato River system including Lake Taupo, where they have built up to large numbers. They also exist in one isolated area on the West Coast of the South Island.
Catfish are robust fish with distinctive whisker-like barbels on their heads and sharp spines on their fins. They prefer slow flowing streams and the edges of lakes, often amongst aquatic plants. They grow up to about 2 kg in New Zealand.
Commercial and non-commercial fishers take catfish either by targeting them, or as a bycatch while fishing for other fish, usually eels. In recent decades catfish have become a popular food fish available in a number of retail outlets, particularly around Auckland. Commercial and non-commercial fishers have until now been allowed to retain live catfish, and in the case of commercial fishers, sell them live. The possession of live catfish by a range of people can increase the risk of new catfish populations being established in waterways that do not have this introduced species.