White catfish are a common and popular fish with more limited range than other catfish species, and with commercial as well as recreational value. They have been successfully stocked in pay-to-fish ponds and are also cultivated for commercial bulk harvest. Their flesh is white and fine, and they make excellent eating, especially when caught from clean environments.
Identification. The white catfish looks somewhat like a cross between a channel cat (see: Catfish, Channel) and a bullhead (see), owing to its slightly forked tail, broad head, and squat body. Midsize specimens are often thought to be huge bullhead. The white catfish has a moderately forked tail, which distinguishes it from the flathead catfish (see: Catfish, Flathead) and the bullhead, whose tails are not forked. Its anal fin is rounded along the edge and has 19 to 23 fin rays, fewer than in either the blue catfish (see: Catfish, Blue) or the channel cat. Without close inspection, it could be confused with other catfish, although it doesn't possess the spots seen on young channel catfish. This fish is olive gray or slate gray on the head and bluish gray or slate gray on its back and sides, tapering to a white belly. As with other catfish, the white cat has heavy, sharp pectoral and dorsal spines, as well as long mouth barbels; its chin barbels are white.
Size/Age. White catfish are smaller than their blue, channel, and flathead brethren but may grow larger than bullhead. The all-tackle world record for this species is a Connecticut fish that weighed 21 pounds, 8 ounces, but a 22-pounder has been reported from California. These are the known upper limits for this species, but it may grow larger. Most white catfish are small, averaging 10 to 14 inches, and are often confused with bullhead. They are a relatively slow-growing fish, reaching sexual maturity at 3
Distribution. The native range of the white catfish is freshwater and the slightly brackish water of rivers along the Atlantic coast from southern New York to Florida. It exists along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas and has been introduced to some inland waters in the eastern and western parts of the United States, including several New England states, plus Oregon and Nevada; it is well established in California.
Habitat. White catfish inhabit the silty bottom areas of slow-moving streams and rivers, as well as ponds, lakes, and the low-salinity portions of tidal estuaries. They generally avoid the swift water of large rivers and do not thrive in weedy or muddy shallow ponds.
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Catfish, White (continued)
to 4 years. They have been reported to live 14 years but may get older.
Spawning behavior. This species spawns in the spring and the early summer, depending on latitude, and its spawning behavior is generally similar to that of the bullhead. The parents build a nest on sand or gravel substrate, usually near shore and often in places associated with some form of sheltering cover; spawning occurs when the water reaches approximately 70°F, and both parents guard the eggs and the young.
Food and feeding habits. White catfish have a broad appetite and consume aquatic insects, crayfish, clams, snails, mussels, fish eggs, assorted small fish, and some aquatic plants. Adults primarily feed on fish and are active at night, although they are less nocturnal than are other catfish.
The term "charr" (or "char") is used to describe five members of the genus Salvelinus. They are members of the Salmonidae family, which also includes trout, salmon, whitefish, and grayling, all of which are endemic to the temperate and cool regions of the Northern Hemisphere but have been introduced widely outside their native range.
The charr group includes only one species that is actually called a "charr" in the English language, the arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus), which is also referred to in some scientific texts as the S. alpinus complex, because in modern times it has come to represent many fish that were previously thought to be separate species or subspecies. The arctic charr's four cousins include two of the most prominent species that are referred to as "trout," the lake trout (S. namaycush) and the brook trout (S. fontinalis), and two less widely known species, the Dolly Varden (S. malma) and the bull trout (S. confluentus).
Charr and other members of the Salmonidae family are primitive fish; their fossil remains date to more than 100 million years ago. Evidence indicates that many of the more advanced or specialized families of modern-day bony fish have ancestral stocks closely resembling these primitive fish.
The most clearly evident primitive feature of the group is the lack of spines in the fins. Most of the soft rays in the fins are branched. The pelvic fins are situated far back on the body—in the "hip" region, where the legs of amphibians articulate with the body. This position differs from the location of the pelvic fins in many other species, including largemouth bass, for example, whose pelvic fins are so far forward, they are almost directly beneath the pectoral fins. Other indications of its primitive nature are an adipose fin and a crude type of air bladder.
Charr, as a group, are among the most distinguished-looking and prettiest fish that appear in freshwater. Some are especially colorful, particularly in spawning mode. All
have distinctive body markings, although there are great variations, depending on their environments. The lake trout found deep in one of the Great Lakes, for example, is rather bland compared to the lake trout caught in more sterile waters of the far north.
Most members of the Salmonidae family are in some way associated with cold, often rushing waters and high oxygen demands. Some, including two of the charr, are also tied to the sea, spending a portion of their lives there. All members of the family spawn in freshwater, and most require cold running water. Members of some of the sea-running species, including at least arctic charr, have become accidentally or deliberately landlocked, living and reproducing successfully entirely in freshwater, without ever taking a journey to saltwater.
Some charr species, especially arctic charr and lake trout, are of great historical, cultural, and food significance to native peoples of the Arctic or the near-Arctic and to settlers, and they have had—and, to some degree, still have— both subsistence and commercial value. All native charr have rich red flesh and are excellent eating, primarily when fresh or smoked.
Some populations of the various charr have declined dramatically, and most are not what they were decades ago, in terms of overall size, as well as in the number of large individuals. In addition, some landlocked forms with limited distribution (blueback trout, Quebec red, and Sunapee trout) have become extinct, their loss in some cases hastened by stocking of nonnative salmonids.
The subject of the proper spelling of this group—charr or char—has generated spirited debate in the scientific community. The original and historical spelling is reportedly Celtic (from ceara, meaning "blood red"), and became "charre" in seventeenth-century England, then "charr." The general public, especially the popular media, today predominantly uses "char." Many Canadian ichthyologists, who arguably have a greater claim to the group because of the abundance of these species and studies of them, use "charr."
The arctic charr is one of five species that are actually classified as charr. It varies so greatly in coloration that many specimens are thought to be species or subspecies, resulting in a great deal of confusion and a tremendous problem for taxonomists. This confusion extended to anadromous and nonanadromous forms, the latter including three New England charr—the blueback trout, the Sunapee trout, and the Quebec red trout, which were once separately recognized species but which were all reclassified and folded under the highly inclusive umbrella S. alpinus in 1974.
The arctic charr exists in anadromous (migrating annually to the sea) and nonanadromous (landlocked or living entirely in freshwater) forms. Because of plentiful food resources in the ocean, the anadromous version tends to be larger than the landlocked one and of more importance. The landlocked charr is blocked from the sea by some physical barrier. It is found everywhere that the sea-run charr exists but also occurs in smaller numbers much farther to the south.
Identification. Like all members of the Salvelinus genus, the arctic charr has light-colored spots on its body, including below the lateral line, and the leading edges of all fins on the lower part of the body are milk white. It is a long and slender fish with a small, pointed head; an adipose fin; an axillary process at the base of each pelvic fin; and a slightly forked tail that almost appears squared. It also has very fine scales, so deeply embedded that the skin has a smooth, slippery feel. Unlike the trout, it has teeth only in the central forward part of its mouth.
Coloration is highly variable among seagoing and landlocked forms and can change even within individual stocks. In a general sense, the arctic charr is silvery in nonspawning individuals, with deep green or blue shading on the back and upper sides and a white belly. Spawning males exhibit
Seagoing fish char, red charr; Cree: awanans; Danish: fjeld0rred; French: omble chevalier; German: saibling; Greenlandic: eqaluk; Icelandic: bleikja; Inuit: iqalugaq, iqaluk, ilkalupik, ivisaaruq, kisuajuq, majuq-tuq, nutiliarjuk, situajuq, situliqtuq, tisuajuq; Japanese: iwana; Norwegian: arktisk roye, royr; Russian: goletz; Swedish: roding.
Landlocked fish blueback charr, blueback trout, Sunapee trout, golden trout (Sunapee), Quebec red.
Distribution. The most northerly ranging fish, the arctic charr is circumpolar in distribution, occurring in pure and cold rivers and lakes around the globe, from the northeastern United States north and west across northern Canada, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands, and from northern Russia south to Lake Baikal and Kamchatka, as well as in Iceland, Great Britain, Scandinavia, the
Charr, Arctic (continued) Alps, and Spitsbergen, among other places.
In North America, they occur from Alaska around the Bering Sea and along the Arctic coast to Baffin Island, along the coastline of Hudson Bay, and from the northern Quebec coast easterly and southerly to Maine and New Hampshire. Except in larger rivers, they seldom range far inland here, although there are a few pockets of landlocked charr. In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory, where they are especially known, charr distribution includes most coastal rivers, some coastal lakes, the streams of the high-arctic islands, and several islands in Hudson Bay.
Habitat. In their ocean life, arctic charr remain in inshore waters; most do not migrate far. In rivers, they locate in pools and runs. The lakes inhabited by anadromous and landlocked charr are cold year-round, so the fish remain near the surface or in the upper levels and may gather at the mouths of tributaries when food is plentiful.
brilliant red or reddish-orange coloration on the sides, the underparts, and the lower fins; their backs are muted, sometimes without the blue or green coloration or possibly with orange to olive hues. A spawning male of some populations will develop a kype, and some have humped backs. Spawning females are also colorful, although the red is less intense and present only on their flanks and bellies; their backs remain bluish or greenish.
Size. Arctic charr may live up to 30 years and grow to 3 feet in length. Sea-run charr grow much larger, and the alltackle world record is a 32-pound, 9-ounce sea-run fish that was caught in 1981 in the Tree River of Canada's Northwest Territories. In most places, sea-run arctic charr range up to 10 pounds and average 7 pounds; landlocked fish normally weigh a few pounds. A sea-run arctic charr weighing more than 15 pounds is a trophy in most waters.
Life history/Behavior. The charr spawns in September or October in colder regions and later if it lives farther south; a water temperature of around 39°F is preferred. The spawning female seeks out a suitable bed of gravel or broken rock. The anadromous charr lives in its birth river for at least 4 years before migrating to the sea for the first time. It will return anywhere between mid-August and late September, before the ice begins to form again. The larger fish return first. Unlike other salmonids, all arctic charr leave the sea and overwinter in rivers and lakes, although not all are spawners; some go back and forth several times before they first spawn. Nonanadromous or landlocked charr tend to reach maturity when they are smaller and younger. They have the same lifestyle as their anadromous brethren.
Food. Insects, mollusks, and small fish constitute the diet of arctic charr. Ninespine sticklebacks are important forage in some places. The charr often does not eat in the winter, when its metabolic rate slows in tune with a cooling environment. Rather, it lives on the fat it has accumulated during the summer, and growth is accordingly limited during the cold months and greatest when at sea.
In North America, the term "chub" is used to describe many unrelated fish, all of which are members of the largest fish family in the world, minnows. Although the word minnow is commonly applied to many small fish, to scientists the minnow family is a large and old group of bony fish, Cyprinidae, which includes river chub, as well as countless species of shiners, dace, and carp.
Confusion about the chub branch of this family exists, nevertheless; this is particularly evident when one sees "smoked chub" on a menu or in a fish market. This is actually a fish-market description for species of whitefish (see) or cisco (see) from the Great Lakes, which are not cyprinids. True chub are rather bony and do not make admirable table fare.
Species and habitat. Twenty-six minnows merit the name "chub" and inhabit waters from the Appalachians to the Pacific Coast. The larger, primitive chub of the genus Gila inhabit western North America. The most familiar chub may be the creek chub, an inhabitant of creeks and lakes throughout eastern and central North America. Also well known are the various river chub, which are members of the genus Nocomis and famed architects of the fish world.
River chub are olive-colored minnows with stout bodies, large scales, and light yellow to red-orange caudal fins. The seven Nocomis species are identified by unique patterns and the size of the tubercle spots on the heads and snouts of males. Female and young chub lack tubercles.
The largest river chub are bull chub and bigmouth chub, and the largest males range from 12 to 15 inches. Bull chub and bigmouth chub are rivaled in size only by the fallfish, the largest native eastern minnows. The closely related creek chub rarely reaches 12 inches in length.
River chub are widely distributed in streams of eastern and central North America, although some have restricted
distribution: redspot chub in eastern Oklahoma and parts of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas; redtail chub in the highland rim of the Cumberland River drainage of southern Kentucky and north-central Tennessee; bigmouth chub in the New River drainage of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia; and bull chub from parts of Virginia and North Carolina.
Other species (hornyhead, river, and bluehead) are more widely distributed. The hornyhead is a common baitfish, often called redtail chub. The wide distribution of chub stems from past geological events, such as glaciation and changing river courses.
Chub often occur in schools with other minnows, particularly stonerollers, in runs and pools of clear, moderately sloping gravel and rock-bottomed streams and rivers. It is not unusual to see young smallmouth bass swimming and actively feeding near chub. Chub and young bass may be eating the same prey, but older smallmouth bass readily consume chub. Bluehead chub, redspot chub, and redtail chub more commonly inhabit smaller streams, whereas river chub, bull chub, and bigmouth chub are more common in main stems and large tributaries.
Chub are primarily sight feeders, taking small invertebrates from the bottom or from the drift. Although they have small barbels, these may not be useful for feeding, more likely being a trait retained from a primitive ancestor. Chub primarily eat immature insects, although they also eat aquatic worms, crustaceans, mollusks, water mites, small fish, and aquatic plants. Chub prefer to feed in the swifter-flowing sections because more food is available there, but to avoid sapping their energy, they usually stay within 4 inches of the streambed, often behind larger stones.
Spawning. Chub spawn in the spring when water temperatures are between 60° and 75°F. During the breeding season, males develop large hornlike tubercles and spectacular coloration—pink, rose, yellow, orange, and blue, depending on the species. The "bluehead" name comes from the intense slate blue head of the spawning male. Colors and tubercles signal spawning readiness to nearby ripe females.
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