Ictalurus furcatus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1840)

Common Name: Blue Catfish

Synonyms and Other Names:

Blue Catfish, White Cat, White Fulton, Fulton, Humpback Blue, Forktail Cat, and Blue Channel Catfish

Copyright Info

Identification: Blue Catfish are often confused with channel catfish (I. punctatus). These two species can be distinguished by the shape of the anal fin (straight edge in I. furcatus; curved edge in I. punctatus) Smith (1979); Page and Burr (1991); Etnier and Starnes (1993); Jenkins and Burkhead (1994).

Size: 165 cm (maximum length); 40-50 kg (Graham et al. 1999)

Native Range:

Mississippi River basin from western Pennsylvania to southern South Dakota and the Platte River, southwestern Nebraska, south to the Gulf of Mexico; tributaries of the gulf from Mobile Bay basin, Alabama, to the Rio Grande drainage, Texas and New Mexico. Ictalurus furcatus is endemic to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins of the central and southern United States and inhabits Gulf Coast streams from Alabama south into Mexico. Also, native to the Atlantic Slope of Mexico (Page and Burr 1991) if not distinguished separately from I. meridionalis (Gilbert 1998). Rarely found in the Mississippi above the confluence with the Missouri River (Becker 1983). Two historic records from Wisconsin (one from Lake Pepin, and one from Lansing Iowa) are believed to be misidentifications of Channel Catfish (Becker 1983). As such, Becker does not consider the species native to Wisconsin.

This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Table 1. States/provinces with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Ictalurus furcatus are found here.

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AL197120215Apalachicola Basin; Lower Chattahoochee; Middle Chattahoochee-Walter F; Upper Choctawhatchee; Upper Conecuh
AZ197320112Imperial Reservoir; Upper San Pedro
CA196620149Los Angeles; Lower Sacramento; Middle San Joaquin-Lower Chowchilla; San Diego; San Joaquin Delta; Santa Ana; Santa Clara; Santa Margarita; Santa Maria
CO195220095San Luis; South Platte; Upper Arkansas; Upper Arkansas-John Martin Reservoir; Upper Arkansas-Lake Meredith
DE201020224Brandywine-Christina; Cohansey-Maurice; Delaware Bay; Nanticoke
DC201020101Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan
FL196820207Apalachicola; Chipola; Escambia; Lower Choctawhatchee; Lower Conecuh; Lower Suwannee; Yellow
GA1971202216Altamaha; Cumberland-St. Simons; Etowah; Hiwassee; Lower Chattahoochee; Lower Flint; Middle Chattahoochee-Lake Harding; Middle Chattahoochee-Walter F; Middle Savannah; Ogeechee Coastal; Satilla; Upper Chattahoochee; Upper Ocmulgee; Upper Oconee; Upper Savannah; Upper Tallapoosa
ID198520225Bear Lake; Brownlee Reservoir; C.J. Strike Reservoir; Lake Walcott; Upper Snake-Rock
KS1995200311Lower Marais Des Cygnes; Lower Republican; Medicine Lodge; Middle Republican; Neosho Headwaters; Smoky Hill; South Fork Ninnescah; Upper Cimarron; Upper Marais Des Cygnes; Upper Neosho; Upper South Fork Solomon
KY199520022Lower Ohio; Salt
MD201020238Choptank; Gunpowder-Patapsco; Lower Potomac; Lower Susquehanna; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; Monocacy; Patuxent; Severn
MN190020013Lower St. Croix; Rush-Vermillion; St. Croix
NE198020113Lower Platte-Shell; Salt; Upper Republican
NJ192020234Hackensack-Passaic; Lower Delaware; Lower Hudson; Mid-Atlantic Region
NM195520072Conchas; Upper San Juan
NC1975201921Albemarle; Black; Cape Fear; Chowan; Contentnea; Lower Cape Fear; Lower Pee Dee; Lower Roanoke; Lower Tar; Lumber; Meherrin; Middle Neuse; Northeast Cape Fear; Roanoke Rapids; Upper Cape Fear; Upper Catawba; Upper Neuse; Upper Pee Dee; Upper Pee Dee; Upper Yadkin; Waccamaw
ND198019801Upper Lake Oahe
OH197520135Licking; Lower Great Miami, Indiana, Ohio; Muskingum; Upper Great Miami, Indiana, Ohio; Upper Scioto
OK1947201925Arkansas-White-Red Region; Blue-China; Cache; Caney; Chikaskia; Clear Boggy; Deep Fork; Kaw Lake; Lake O' The Cherokees; Little; Lower Canadian; Lower Canadian-Walnut; Lower Cimarron; Lower Cimarron-Skeleton; Lower Neosho; Lower North Canadian; Lower North Fork Red; Lower Verdigris; Middle North Canadian; Middle Verdigris; Middle Washita; Muddy Boggy; Poteau; Upper Little; West Cache
OR191019462Brownlee Reservoir; Middle Willamette
SC1964202012Carolina Coastal-Sampit; Congaree; Cooper; Edisto River; Lake Marion; Lower Pee Dee; Middle Savannah; Salkehatchie; Santee; Seneca; Waccamaw; Wateree
SD198019802Fort Randall Reservoir; Lower Lake Oahe
TN199320192Conasauga; Upper Duck
TX1959202180Atascosa; Austin-Travis Lakes; Bosque; Brady; Buchanan-Lyndon B. Johnson Lakes; Cedar; Chambers; Cibolo; Colorado Headwaters; Concho; Cowhouse; Denton; Double Mountain Fork Brazos; East Fork Trinity; East Galveston Bay; Elm Fork Trinity; Hondo; Hubbard; Jim Ned; Lake Meredith; Lake O'the Pines; Lampasas; Leon; Little; Little Wichita; Llano; Lower Angelina; Lower Brazos-Little Brazos; Lower Colorado-Cummins; Lower Frio; Lower Pecos-Red Bluff Reservoir; Lower Prairie Dog Town Fork Red; Lower Trinity-Kickapoo; Lower Trinity-Tehuacana; Lower West Fork Trinity; Medina; Middle Brazos-Lake Whitney; Middle Brazos-Millers; Middle Brazos-Palo Pinto; Middle Colorado; Middle Colorado-Elm; Middle Guadalupe; Middle Neches; Middle Nueces; Middle Sabine; Navasota; North Bosque; North Concho; North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos; North Llano; Nueces Headwaters; Paint; Pecan Bayou; Pedernales; Richland; San Gabriel; San Marcos; San Miguel; San Saba; South Concho; South Llano; Sulphur Headwaters; Tule; Turkey; Upper Angelina; Upper Clear Fork Brazos; Upper Colorado; Upper Frio; Upper Guadalupe; Upper Neches; Upper North Fork Red; Upper Nueces; Upper Salt Fork Red; Upper San Antonio; Upper Trinity; Upper West Fork Trinity; West Nueces; White; Wichita; Yegua
VA1974202311Albemarle; Appomattox; James; Lower Chesapeake Bay; Lower James; Middle James-Willis; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; Middle Roanoke; Pamunkey; Rapidan-Upper Rappahannock; Shenandoah
WA191019101Lower Snake
WI199820062South Fork Flambeau; Upper Fox

Table last updated 6/22/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Ictalurus furcatus can tolerate salinities up to 15 ppt (Christmas and Waller 1973, Dennison et al. 1993, Perry 1968, Ross 2001, Bonvechio et al. 2012). Their survival is 87% in experimental conditions of dissolved oxygen at 1.41 ppm (Torrans et al. 2012).

The harsh winters in their native and introduced range region make it likely Blue Catfish can survive low temperatures. They can be found in the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota (Fuller and Neilson 2013). A CLIMATCH analysis included in the USFWS risk assessment for Blue Catfish found that the climate of the Great Lakes Basin closely matches the climate of their current range (Australian Bureau of Rural Sciences 2008).This species migrates toward warmer waters during winter and to cooler waters during summer (Graham 1999). Their preferred temperature is between 28 and 30°C.  In fish farms in Mississippi Delta, 95% survive after winter with temperatures as low of 5.1°C (Bosworth 2012).    

Blue Catfish can live in a variety of habitats. They inhabit river channels which have higher flows and harder substrates (i.e., gravel, boulders, rock rip rap), and floodplain lakes which have lower or no flows and softer substrates (i.e., silt, sand) (Eggleton and Schramm Jr 2004). Blue Catfish prefer open waters of large reservoirs and main channels, backwaters, and embayments of large, flowing rivers where water is normally turbid and substrate varies from gravel-sand to silt-mud (Burr and Warren 1986). Many rivers and reservoirs with I. furcatus populations have only mud or silt substrate. Blue Catfish prefer deep, swift channels and flowing pools (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994), and large individuals often are found in tailwaters below dams where currents are swift and substrates consist of sand, gravel, and rock (Mettee et al. 1996, Graham et al. 1999).

Blue Catfish are highly omnivorous. In the lower Mississippi River, across all habitats their diets were composed of 47% fishes (more than 15 identifiable species), 15% molluscs, 12% chironomids and oligochaetes, 7% detritus/plant matter, 6% decapods, 6% scavenging, and 1% terrestrial arthropods (Eggleton and Schramm Jr. 2004). Scavenged items were typically fishes and fish scales, but also included small mammals, birds, and turtles.

Blue Catfish spawns in late spring to early summer at water temperatures of 21 to 25°C (Sublette et al. 1990) In advance of spawning, Blue Catfish seek protected areas to deposit eggs behind rocks, root-wads, depressions, undercut stream banks, or other areas where the currents are minimal (Graham et al. 1999).
Males guard eggs and fry (Graham et al. 1999) which is a strategy associated with animals that have high colonization success.

Means of Introduction:

Ictalurus furcatus has a High probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Potential pathway(s) of introduction: Escape from recreational culture, dispersal, unauthorized intentional release

Blue Catfish can migrate up to several hundred kilometers.The closest population to the Great Lakes basin is likely a stocked population documented in 1981 in Indian Lake, Ohio (Logan County), less than 20 km from the Lake Erie watershed (USGS NAS). However, this water body drains into the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River, with no direct connection to the Great Lakes. Likewise, the sites of Minnesotan introductions (Lake St. Croix and Lake Peppin) also drain into the Mississippi River (USGS NAS). Blue Catfish is stocked for catch and keep at Litchfield Catfish Acres, Michigan, an artificial unconnected pond near the St. Joseph River (http://www.litchfieldcatfishacres.com/).

As a result of Blue Catfish growing to exceptionally large sizes, it has been widely introduced as a food and sport fish and now occurs in 29 states throughout the Mississippi basin as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coastal slopes (Graham et al. 1999, Fuller and Neilson 2013). Blue Catfish are often found in fish markets (Graham et al. 1999).

Other reasons for nonindigenous occurrences include intentional stocking or unintentional flooding of private water bodies (Bonvechio et al. 2012, Guier et al. 1984, Metee et al. 1996).

Status: Ictalurus furcatus has been recently introduced to many northern states (Graham 1999, Padhi 2011). Ictalurus furcatus has been introduced to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, New Mexico, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington (Tuckey and Fabrizio 2011). It is probably extirpated from the San Juan and Canadian drainages in New Mexico (Sublette et al. 1990). Blue Catfish are established in the Chattahoochee River in Alabama and Georgia (Fuller and Neilson 2015), the Apalachicola and Escambia rivers in Florida (Fuller and Neilson 2015).  They have spread rapidly through the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Schloesser et al. 2011).

In studies of the James and Rappahannock rivers Blue Catfish are estimated to make up 75% of the total fish biomass, and are associated with a decline in native White Catfish I. catus (Schloesser et al. 2011, Tuckey and Fabrizio 2011). Commercial landings of Blue Catfish in Maryland and Virginia have increased from 9.5-17 metric tons in 2003-2005 to more than 72.5 metric tons in 2008 (Schloesser et al. 2011).

Ictalurus furcatus has a Moderate probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Blue Catfish are found in many regions with climates similar to the Great Lakes. For example, they are found at a latitude of 46°N in the Missouri River near Bismarck, North Dakota (Fuller and Neilson 2013), . This region experiences harsh winters and hot summers - similar to the Great Lakes. Blue Catfish tolerance of pollution is not documented in the literature, but this species inhabits the lower Mississippi and the Chesapeake Bay watershed which both contain polluted areas. Areas where Blue Catfish are found have similar temperatures and salinities to the Great Lakes.
    This species is a dietary generalist that would likely find adequate food in the Great Lakes. Males guard eggs and fry (Graham et al. 1999) giving this species an advantage over other native fish that do not guard young.

Great Lakes Impacts:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...


Ictalurus furcatus has the potential for moderate environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.
    Blue Catfish may introduce high levels of PCBs and other contaminants into the food web if consumed by avian predators (Schloesser et al. 2011). Homer and Jennings (2011) found shifts in the gillnet catch of Ameiurus catus (L.) (White Catfish) to Blue Catfish in Lake Oconee, GA, and suggested that competition by introduced Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish could drive declines in the abundance of native White Catfish (Bonvechio et al. 2012). In the Chesapeake watershed, Blue Catfish may prey on economically and ecologically important estuarine fishes such as juvenile American Shad Alosa sapidissima, Atlantic Menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus, and River Herring (collectively, Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus and Blueback Herring A. aestivalis) (Schloesser et al. 2011), so may consume similar fish species (Alewife and Gizzard Shad Dorosoma cepedianum) in the Great Lakes. Blue Catfish also have been hybridized with Channel Catfish (I. punctatus) for use in the aquaculture industry (Howeth et al., 2015). There may be risk for hybridization with native Channel Catfish in the Great Lakes if Blue Catfish become established.
    In waters below 21 °C, both zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and Asian Clams (Corbiucula fluminea) can pass through Blue Catfish’s digestive tracts unharmed (Gatlin et al., 2012). Thus, introduced Blue Catfish may act as a vector to further transport invasive species.

    There is little or no evidence to support that Ictalurus furcatus has the potential for significant socio-economic impacts if introduced to the Great Lakes.
    Blue Catfish may accumulate mercury in tissue (Nichols et al. 2002), leading to many consumption advisories for this species where they are found. There is no evidence that Blue Catfish negatively impacts infrastructure, economic sectors, recreational activities and associated tourism, or the aesthetic appeal of the areas it inhabits.

    Ictalurus furcatus has the potential for high beneficial impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.
    Blue Catfish are an economically important fishery; they are harvested by port and commercial fishers in 14 states, most of which are in east-central and southeastern states within the middle and lower Mississippi River and Ohio River basins (Graham et al. 1999, Michaletz and Dillard 1999, Holley et al. 2009). Blue Catfish also pose significant recreational value; fifteen states consider the species recreationally important (Graham et al. 1999, Michaletz and Dillard 1999, Schloesser et al. 2011)  Blue Catfish are unpopular with the aquaculture industry because of reported slow maturation rates, poor food conversion, and poor spawning success in captivity (Graham et al. 1999). California stocks Blue Catfish for Asiatic clam control (Graham et al. 1999) but this method is not very effective.

Management: Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)
Introduction of Blue Catfish is prohibited under Minnesota Statute 84 D which prevents the introduction of nonnative animals and aquatic plants.

    Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

    There are no known biological control methods for this species.
    Commercial, recreational, and food fisheries have been proposed to control Blue Catfish in the Chesapeake Bay (Fabrizio et al., 2010), however it is unlikely that fishing would fully eradicate an established Blue Catfish population.
    There are no known chemical control methods specific to this species. General piscicides (such as rotenone) may be used for control, but would also kill non-target species.

    Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods.

Remarks: Blue Catfish has been stocked to consume and control the introduced Asian clam. Although Blue Catfish may not actually control Asian Clam populations, it is hoped that clam biomass could be converted to fish biomass and create trophy-sized catfish to catch (Dill and Cordone 1997). In Lake Norman North Carolina, Blue Catfish are known to consume the invasive Asian clam (Fuller and Neilson 2015), and in the Cape Fear River, North Carolina feed almost exclusively on Corbicula, (Fuller and Neilson 2015). Blue Catfish are not listed as occurring in South Carolina (Loyacano 1975) or in Idaho (Simpson and Wallace 1978). Reports of Blue Catfish in the New River drainage in West Virginia and Virginia are more likely misidentified as I. punctatus (Burkhead et al. 1980 . Stauffer et al. (1995) do not list this species for the Kanawha River (including the New River) drainage of West Virginia.

There is considerable doubt about the introduction of this species in the Potomac River near the turn of the century.  Although numerous authors (Bean and Weed 1911; McAtee and Weed 1915; Wiley 1970; Jenkins et al. 1972; Stauffer et al. 1978; Graham 1999) report that Blue Catfish were introduced between 1898 and 1905, it appears that statement is based on misidentification of I. punctatus (Burkhead et al. 1980),or if any of those fish actually were Blue Catfish, the introduction failed. Starnes et al. (2011) reported that young Blue Catfish were increasing in number and are now in the Potomac River, and in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal up through the Plummers Island region.

References (click for full reference list)

Author: Fuller, P., M. Neilson, A. Fusaro, A. Davidson, K. Alame, M. Gappy, and W. Conard

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 11/16/2018

Citation for this information:
Fuller, P., M. Neilson, A. Fusaro, A. Davidson, K. Alame, M. Gappy, and W. Conard, 2024, Ictalurus furcatus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1840): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=740&Potential=Y&Type=2, Revision Date: 11/16/2018, Access Date: 6/22/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.