LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) — Putting thieves on display for crowds may seem a bit humiliating, but that’s just what the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is doing with the latest culprits to steal from the AGFC’s Trout Program. Four massive blue catfish were added to the AGFC’s mobile aquariums when they were found breaking and entering at the AGFC Jim Collins Net Pen facility in Mt. Ida this winter.
The catfish were busted stealing rainbow trout from net pens, where the AGFC raises rainbow trout to catchable sizes for Arkansas anglers. Alex Gilbert, facility manager at the net pens, says blue catfish have a tendency to wind up in the nylon pens each winter.
“Whenever a trout dies in the net pen, it sinks to the bottom and lays there,” Gilbert said. “That’s like candy just sitting there for blue catfish. They’ll grab the bottom of the net and spin, which eventually tears a hole in the mesh.”
The catfish that get into the pens are large enough to eat 10- to 12-inch trout, and once they get in, they will eat some live trout as well. The hole also enables some trout to escape the pens.
“We usually won’t know about the breech until the amount of feed needed drops,” Gilbert said. “These catfish cost a lot of production, so we try to salvage a little something by catching them and donating them to the Aquatic Resource Education Program’s mobile aquariums.”
This year’s nuisance catfish include a 106-pound leviathan, which is only about 10 pounds lighter than the current Arkansas state record. It is so large, it fits in only the AGFC’s largest aquarium.
“We have a few sizes of aquariums for special events and schools,” said Lea Gray, Aquatic Resources Education Program coordinator for the AGFC. “The biggest one only goes to about 15 events or so a year, including the Arkansas State Fair and Big Buck Classic.”
Gray says the smaller aquariums can fit blue catfish up to about 20 pounds, and they are the perfect size for a school presentation.
“When we come to schools, we’ll give them a presentation about the fish of Arkansas and hand out fish identification books and Fishing 101 pamphlets,” Gray said. “Big catfish always are a hit with the kids.”
Anyone interested in having the ARE mobile aquariums at a school or large event can find out more about the program and download an event application at www.agfc.com/are. The aquariums usually are booked about a year in advance of an event, so it’s important to get the application filled out as soon as possible.