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White Catfish (Ameiurus catus) - Introduced

52 cm white catfish.

A typical 20-inch adult white catfish from the Connecticut River. Note the blue color around the eye.

Identification. Similar to channel catfish. Tail fin forked. Upper lobe of tail may be slightly longer than lower. Anal fin shorter than channel catfish (18-24 rays). Head and mouth generally larger and wider than channel catfish. Serrations on posterior edge of pectoral spines moderate to strong. Chin barbels light. No black spots on young fish. Shorter barbels at corners of mouth than channel catfish (about twice as long as barbels near nostrils). Typically dark gray, sometimes brownish on the back, fading to light gray on the sides to white on the belly. Outer edges of eyes in adults often blue.

Juvenile white catfish.

A 5-inch juvenile white catfish. Note the light chin barbels and forked tail with rounded lobes (vs. pointed lobes on the channel catfish).

Size. Commonly 8 to 17 inches. State survey max. size 21.7 inches. Max. reported size 37 inches. World Record 18.9 pounds.

Channel catfish and white catfish comparison shot from above.

The head and mouth of a typical white catfish (right) is much wider than that of a channel catfish (left).

Distribution. Native range includes Atlantic coastal United States from New York to Florida. Widely introduced elsewhere. White catfish are established in all major drainage areas of Connecticut, with the strongest populations being in the lower reaches of the major rivers (Connecticut, Housatonic, Pawcatuck and Thames), where they are common to abundant. A number of lakes and ponds have self-sustaining populations, many of which became established since the 1960s. Where found, they are typically uncommon to common in abundance.

White catfish distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Prefer backwaters and slow-moving areas of larger rivers and streams as well as lakes and ponds. They appear to be more tolerant of brackish water than channel catfish. Possibly for this reason, white catfish outnumber channel catfish only in the southern part of the Connecticut River. White catfish can readily be taken with bait (such as worms or fish) on the bottom during the day, but more often at night.

Comments. Very large white catfish are difficult for even trained biologists to positively identify. For this reason, most angler-caught “white catfish” that were reportedly over 10 pounds were probably misidentified channel catfish.

White catfish and channel catfish underside comparison photo.

Close-up of the underside of a white catfish (left) and a channel catfish (right) showing the differences in mouth size and pigmentation on the chin barbels.

 

Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.