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"Emerging crisis": Moore asks for federal help to fight invasive fish

Blue catfish is a major invasive fish in the Chesapeake Bay
Posted at 12:50 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 17:25:07-04

BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore is asking for federal disaster assistance to fight the growing numbers of invasive fish species in the Chesapeake Bay.

The "explosion" in blue catfish, flathead catfish and snakehead is seriously affecting Maryland's commercial fisheries, said Moore in a press release today. His administration just asked U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to declare the Bay's invasive-fish boom to be an ongoing commercial fishery disaster.

Since being introduced in Virginia in the 1970s to create a recreational fishery, blue catfish especially are being blamed for spreading throughout the watershed and posing a major threat to commercial fisheries by out-competing native species, including blue crab, striped bass, white perch, yellow perch, and American eel.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz called it "an emerging crisis" that could undermine regulations East Coast states have tried to make to protect "our iconic species."

He said in a statement:

“The impact of invasive species cannot be underestimated, nor can we delay action to address the damage they are causing.”

It hasn't been scientifically proven yet that the invasive species are causing the decline in native species. But last year, the Bay saw its lowest number of blue crabs - 227 million - since the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey began in 1990. Maryland's seven marquee commercial-fishery species have lost between 12 percent to 85 percent in their dockside value since 2012.

The state has stepped up monitoring of the invasive species and is urging recreational fishermen to help catch them. Maryland Department of Natural Resources notes blue catfish and snakeheads are also "valued as a delicacy."