Wels catfish among species banned in Michigan

The wels catfish, which can reach nine feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds, is one of seven animals were recently added to Michigan’s list of Prohibited Species.

Wels catfish from Rio Ebro, Spain. Joe Pell | Wikimedia Commons
Wels catfish from Rio Ebro, Spain. Joe Pell | Wikimedia Commons

It should come as no surprise that a Eurasian catfish known for its healthy appetite, giant size and eel-like tail might pose a threat to native species in the Great Lakes region if it is introduced to local waters.  The wels catfish is a creature of legend in its home waters around the Black and Caspian seas and west to Germany, and before the action of the Natural Resources Commission little could have prevented it from becoming a reality in the Great Lakes. 

Its native area is the same region that produced successful Great Lakes invaders including zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round goby, and spiny water flea so there is little doubt that the wels can thrive in a climate similar to ours.

Unlike earlier invaders, the wels is a top predator that eats other fish and even birds.  Type “catfish eats pigeons” into a search engine if you want proof.  In their native waters large specimens have become scarce. 

In places where non-native wels were introduced they can weigh in at over 200 pounds.  The River Po recently produced the IGFA all-tackle record of 297 pounds, 9 ounces.  This proves that these cats can thrive outside of their home range.

Many other Eurasian invaders arrived in ballast water, but the wels is more likely to arrive by another route.  Federal regulations do nothing to prevent shipping wels into the country, meaning there is no legal means of preventing wels catfish from arriving in the U.S. for use in the pet trade, fish farms, or live food markets.

This is why Michigan recently took the precaution of listing wels catfish as a Prohibited Species.  The designation prohibits possession and transport of live animals.  For more details on invasive species law see the Fact Sheet produced in cooperation with Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension.

The Natural Resources Commission took the step of adding wels and six other species to the list effective Nov. 6.  Other species put on the prohibited list were the stone moroko, zander, killer shrimp, yabby, golden mussel and red swamp crayfish.

The move was part of a proactive effort by Great Lakes states and provinces.  In 2013, governors and premiers met and pledged to take action to prevent the spread of sixteen “least wanted” species.

In Michigan, possession of nine of these species was already limited.  The only remaining species is a plant (water soldier) and does not fall under the authority of the Natural Resources Commission.  The Commission on Agriculture and Rural Development may consider listing water soldier in the near future.

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