Hatchery Releases Catfish Fingerlings

The flathead catfish fingerlings released at Enid and Grenada lakes August 24 averaged about three inches in length. Hatchery workers found themselves regrouping the fingerlings into tanks by size each week to keep faster growing fish from devouring their smaller broodmates. – Photo by John Howell

By John Howell

   Good news from the Pascagoula River basin in south Mississippi is also good news for fishing in Enid and Grenada reservoirs, North Mississippi Fish Hatchery Director Justin Wilkins said.

    Wilkins and co-workers released 5,000 fingerling flathead catfish at Enid and Grenada Friday. The catfish had been raised from eggs extracted from big flatheads caught in Enid last spring. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDFWP) personnel caught several by “electro-shock.” Hand fishermen donated more that they had caught while “grabbling.”

    Hatchery personnel needed the big mama flatheads for eggs to raise into replacements after Hurricane Katrina appeared to have depleted the flathead population of the Pascagoula River on the Mississippi coast. The Pascagoula replenishment plan called for the fish to be raised to 12 inches and then to be released  in the coastal river.

    However, recent samplings convinced MDFWP biologists that the Pascagoula River basin flathead catfish population had not been reduced as much as the first studies had suggested. The hatchery-raised catfish would not be needed there after all.

    On Friday, hatchery assistant manager Jacob Dill, Charles Silkwood and Jeff Greer dipped nets into the large brood tanks, each containing hundreds of fingerling flatheads, mostly about three inches long.

    “It’s a cannibal,” Silkwood said as he showed Dill one flathead that had grown to almost five inches.

    “We have to separate them once a week,” Dill said, placing fish of the same size together to avoid having the larger fish eat their smaller broodmates.

    The hatchery workers used the weight of the small fish to estimate their numbers and sort them for distribution to Enid and Grenada. They average 160 to the pound at their present size. Their catch weighed 40 pounds after they had scooped every single fingerling from every tank, putting the flathead fingerling total well above the 5,000 they had originally planned to raise to 12 inches, “the only one that counts is the one that finds its way into the lake,” Greer said.

Of the total, 4,500 were placed in Grenada Lake. “It’s a popular hand-grabbing lake,” Wilkins said.

    The remaining 500 were eased into the waters below the Enid Dam outlet channel where some are expected to survive to become the big mamas like their forebearers.

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