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The flathead catfish invasion of the Great Lakes

July 12, 2018

A detailed review of historical literature and museum data revealed that flathead catfish were not historically native in the Great Lakes Basin, with the possible exception of a relict population in Lake Erie. The species has invaded Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron, nearly all drainages in Michigan, and the Fox/Wolf and Milwaukee drainages in Wisconsin. They have not been collected from Lake Superior yet, and the temperature suitability of that lake is questionable. Flathead catfish have been stocked sparingly in the Great Lakes and is not the mechanism responsible for their spread. A stocking in 1968 in Ohio may be one exception to this. Dispersal resulted from both natural range expansions and unauthorized introductions. The invasion is ongoing, with the species invading both from the east and the west to meet in northern Lake Michigan. Much of this invasion has likely taken place since the 1990s. This species has been documented to have significant impacts on native fishes in other areas where it has been introduced; therefore, educating the public not to release them into new waters is important. Frequent monitoring of rivers and lakes for the presence of this species would detect new populations early so that management actions could be utilized on new populations if desired.