Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Whitledge, Gregory


In 2015, Illinois changed size and harvest limits for catfishes (blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus, flathead catfish Pylodictis olivaris, and channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus) in the Ohio River to match those of neighboring states in order to provide continuity of the regulations and promote a trophy catfish fishery. Regulations imposed a daily limit of one blue catfish or flathead catfish ≥ 35 inches (88.9 cm) and one channel catfish ≥ 28 inches (71.1 cm) per fisher and a 13 inch (33.0 cm) minimum length limit for all species with no bag limit. Although management regulations were implemented, potential efficacy of the implemented regulations and appropriate (i.e. most precise or accurate with fewest samples) monitoring protocols were unknown. Furthermore, there was general lack of understanding of early life movements, natal dispersal timing and principal recruitment sources that aide in determining appropriate spatial scale for monitoring and managing lower Ohio River catfish stocks.To fill these knowledge gaps the following methods were employed: 1) simulation modeling was used to evaluate precision in estimating catch and size distribution metrics for monitoring population trends with increasing sample size (i.e., sampling events), 2) N-mixture modeling was used to estimate size selectivity of multiple gears using detection probability as a robust alternative to size-specific catchability coefficients, 3) otolith microchemistry (Sr:Ca and Ba:Ca) was employed to determine principal recruitment sources, early life movement patterns, and provide fisheries managers with a better understanding of the spatial extent to which management actions should be implemented, 4) Bayesian modeling was used to estimate growth and mortality, 5) Yield-per-recruit modeling was used to estimate and evaluate fishing mortality rates that would result in growth overfishing (FMAX) and yield at FMAX (YPRMAX) for three management scenarios (no regulation, minimum length limit [33.0 cm or greater] and a permissive slot limit [33.0 cm – 88.9 cm; blue catfish and flathead catfish]). The simulation models presented account for the uncertainty associated with heterogeneous selectivity of a gear, and minimize the impact of rare or extreme catch values. Trotlines and low pulse (15-pps) electrofishing generally required the fewer samples to achieve stable values of catch per unit of effort (CPUE), proportional size distribution (quality; PSDQ), and coefficient of variation (CV) than other gears based on simulation modeling. Abundance and detection probabilities were estimated separately for each species of catfish by length category within and across gears, producing a species-gear-size correction for catch bias used in estimating Proportional Size Distribution - Quality (PSDQ). Corrected (i.e., accounting for detection) PSDQ values were lower than uncorrected estimates suggesting a positive bias for larger fish across the entire sampling regime. Managers should use a combination of low pulse electrofishing, trotlines, and high pulse (60-pps) electrofishing in their monitoring efforts for all three species. Based on microchemistry, ictalurid catfishes in the lower Ohio River appear to recruit from multiple sources and make movements across a broad geographic scale. Additionally, some catfish may be originating from outside the portion of the Ohio River that is managed by Illinois (lower 214 km). Fisheries managers should take this into account when implementing management actions. However, most ictalurid catfishes originated from riverine (e.g., Ohio and Mississippi River) natal environments and not from smaller tributaries, and managers should not expect tributaries to compensate for weak year-classes within the river. Based on yield per recruit modeling, catfish stocks are unlikely to benefit from current regulations or a theoretical minimum size limit given the near complete overlap of YPRMAX confidence intervals for all estimable scenarios and the small statistical difference (1 – 3%) based on FMAX between the most permissive and most restrictive scenarios. While statistical differences in FMAX exist, they are likely biologically irrelevant, exceeding the precision of estimation methods for F. While there is some indication that alignment and continuity of management regulations is warranted based on microchemistry, the efficacy of the current permissive slot regulations is questionable based on the models presented and the life history of these fishes. There is no advantage to implementing any of the modeled regulations in terms of increasing FMAX or YPRMAX.




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