Insight into environments that contribute recruits to adult fish stocks in riverine systems is vital for effective population management and conservation. Catfish are an important recreational species in the Mississippi River and are commercially harvested. However, contributions of main channel and tributary habitats to catfish recruitment in large rivers are unknown. Stable isotope and trace elemental signatures in otoliths are useful for determining environmental history of fishes in a variety of aquatic systems, including the Mississippi River. The objectives of this study were to identify the principal natal environments of channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus and blue catfish I. furcatus in the middle Mississippi River (MMR) using otolith stable oxygen isotopic composition (δ18O) and strontium:calcium ratios (Sr:Ca). Catfishes were sampled during July-October 2013-2014 and lapilli otoliths were analyzed for δ18O and Sr:Ca. Water samples from the MMR and tributaries were collected seasonally from 2006-2014 to characterize site-specific signatures. Persistent differences in water δ18O and Sr:Ca among the MMR and tributaries (including the upper Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri rivers as well as smaller tributaries) were evident, enabling identification of natal environment for individual fish. Blue and channel catfish stocks in the MMR primarily recruited from the large rivers (Missouri and Mississippi) in our study area, with minimal contributions from smaller tributaries. Recruitment and year class strength investigations and efforts to enhance spawning and nursery habitats should be focused in the large rivers with less emphasis in smaller tributaries.
River Research and Applications