The recent Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest (BCQ) was more than a catfish tournament. The location was Memphis, TN and the target was big catfish. The Mississippi River is known for its big cats and the tournament provided the perfect spot for researchers from Western Illinois University (WIU) to collect some samples from the catfish brought in by tournament anglers.
The problem of Asian carp in the Mississippi and other rivers has been well documented and the researchers wanted to determine if the catfish in the Mississippi included the unwanted species of carp in their diet.
True to its reputation, the Mighty Mississippi provided plenty of catfish for the researchers. Ashley Stanley from Western Illinois University is the project leader. “We really like what the BCQ is doing and what the fishermen are doing to work together,” said Stanley. “I am doing a project on blue and flathead catfish and their relation to Asian Carp.”
Stanley and her assistant, Katie Maimor, were on site taking muscle tissue samples from the catfish that anglers brought in to the weigh-in. “It’s taken just behind the dorsal fin,” explained Stanley. “The process is stress-free on the fish and they recover easily. There is no danger to them dying from our procedure.”
BCQ tournament fish are resuscitated in oxygenated tanks and returned to the water following weigh-in activities. The WIU researches set up a workstation between the holding tanks and the vehicle that would transport the fish back to the river. They used the station to take their samples.
“We can use those muscle tissue samples to see what the fish have been eating,” explained Stanley. “It’s kind of like carbon dating to determine the chemicals in their muscles. The analysis will tells us what they have been eating. Hopefully we will be able to isolate the species and see how much Asian carp the catfish have been eating.
The researchers work out of the Kibbe Life Science Research Station at WIU. The station promotes teaching and research in field biology and ecology and one of the current interests is the silver, black, grass and big head carp, known commonly as the Asian carp.
The Asian carp are very prolific and appear to be making a disturbing migration towards the Great Lakes. The prolific nature of the fish makes researchers worry that they will endanger native species of fish. Many news reports have been made related to the fact that the silver carp seem to be disturbed by passing boats and begin to jump out of the water and actually become a hazard to boater.
All though the results are not yet known, the hopeful outcome is. “We’re in hopes that they are eating the Asian carp because of the problems were having with that fish in the river,” concluded Stanley.