By APC National Director of Conservation, Travis Halsey
Commercial fishing has been around for centuries, and continues to be a thriving practice. The amount of money that states take in from commercial fisherman is an important part of that state’s economy. It is also important to the country as a whole. As you stroll through the fish aisle of your grocery store, commercial fisherman make it possible for you to purchase some sea food or fish to put on the dinner table. However, in recent years many commercial fisherman on the big rivers and lakes in this country have started to fish for a different reason. They started to realize that there is a huge demand for trophy sized catfish. No longer for the purpose of human consumption in most cases, but to be sold alive by the pound to the thousands of pay lakes that are springing up all over the place.
As this sport continues to explode, it is expanding just a fast off the banks of the large rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in the United States. In turn pay lakes are popping up all over the place. A pay lake is a privately owned pond that is in most cases is heavily stocked with trophy sized catfish. The owner charges someone a price to fish their lake for a certain amount of time. These lakes make it easier for some to catch a large catfish. In order to lure in customers, the owners are buying the biggest fish available to put in there pond. In many cases they continue stock fish in 50 to 100 pound range. Now when you factor in that states like Kentucky have no size or creel limits on catfish for commercial fisherman, it is not hard to see the problem that is arising here. Now why is the state of KY so important? Kentucky borders a very large area of the Ohio River. That means anyone who holds a commercial fishing license from the state of Kentucky along that stretch of river has the ability to catch and keep as many catfish as they like. While states like Ohio do not allow commercial fishing on the Ohio River, they do allow commercial fisherman to bring their catch across state lines to be sold to these establishments.
Commercial fishing across a long section of the Ohio River is becoming a pay lake stocking enterprise. In fact, many commercial fishermen that fish this stretch of river actually own a pay lake, or multiple pay lakes. When exactly did we start to go off track here? How can anything that is permitted to be harvested with no regulation be sustained? A KDFWR official told me that the argument from the commercial fisherman that harvest catfish for that purpose is “well the big fish are always there”. That had to be one of the most ridiculous statements I had ever heard. Are we supposed to wait until the fish are no longer there before we make changes? These fish in most cases are stocked in undersized, over stocked ponds. In most cases the very large fish do not survive very long, if at all. Only to be replaced by yet another load of trophy class catfish. It’s a cycle that has to be stopped. The owners of these places have every right to own their own business. That being said, why can’t there be regulations in place that will force these places to take better care of their fish? In turn there would not be such a high demand to replace the fish that have such high mortality rates when they are introduced into these ponds. I realize that many anglers may not see, or even know about this problem. Some commercial fisherman will continue to hide behind the fact that they are removing large fish and selling them to lake owners. I challenge you to search for a pay lake website on the internet, and take a look at the fish that are being stocked in these ponds on a weekly basis. When you factor in the consumption advisories along the Ohio River it is not hard to see what is really going on here in most cases. The question is will enough people care enough to start and push for change. Until this problem is addressed and not ignored by state officials it is only going to get worse.