Habits, distribution, and characteristics[ edit ] Two hardhead catfish Hardhead catfish are found mostly in the near-shore waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean , around the southeast coast of the United States, around the Florida Keys and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The dorsal and pectoral fins each are supported by a sharp, slime-covered, barbed spine. The dorsal spine is normally erect when the fish is excited and a tennis shoe or even a leather-soled shoe offers little protection. The gafftopsail catfish looks similar to the hardhead catfish, but its dorsal and pectoral spines have a distinctive fleshy extension like the fore-and-aft topsail of a ship. Feeding behavior[ edit ] A.

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Superorder: Acanthopterygii Species Description Both marine Ariidae and freshwater catfishes Ictaluridae are notable for their unscaled skin, forked caudal fins, adipose fins set anterior to the caudal peduncle, and the presence of large, serrated spines positioned anteriorly to the dorsal fin and the pectoral fins.

Marine catfishes are separated from Ictalurids based on the absence of barbels on the nostrils, and by body color, which is typically steel blue dorsally, fading to silver laterally, and white ventrally. Ariopsis felis, the sea catfish, is an elongate marine catfish that reaches The head is depressed in profile, with the mouth inferior. There are 3 pairs of barbels present. The maxillary barbels are nearly as long as the head, while the other 2 pairs are much shorter and set under the chin.

The dorsal fin, anal fin and pectoral fins each bear a single strong spine. The dorsal fin has 7 soft rays, the anal fin has rays and the pectoral fin has rays. A pair of ventral fins is set far posterior to the origin of the dorsal fin.

The adipose fin is black in color. The caudal fin and anal fins are generally tipped with black, while the remainder of the fins are dusky in color. Females have larger pelvic fins than males Lee ; Merriman ; Muncy and Wingo They are much more common south of the Chesapeake Bay region Muncy and Wingo The lifespan may be as long as 5 - 8 years Benson ; Doermann et al. Age 0 sea catfishes in southwestern Florida were measured at - mm 4.

Reproduction Ariopsis felis reaches sexual maturity before the age of 2 Benson Female size at maturity has been reported within the range of In males, maturity is thought to occur at a somewhat larger size of approximately 25 cm 9. Females develop flap-like fatty tissue on their pelvic fins at maturity, and thus have larger pelvic fins than males of the species Lee ; Merriman It has been proposed that the highly modified pelvic fins may be the site of fertilization and may play a role in transferring fertilized eggs to the mouth of the male for incubation Gunter However, it is also possible that males pick up eggs from shallow depression in sand, as eggs, while adhesive, tend to be demersal.

Ward examined eggs of females captured from Mississippi Sound. He noted eggs generally measured mm in diameter in April, mm in May, and mm in June and July. Eggs were enriched with yolk by early June. Spawning occurs from May through August in shallow bays and estuarine waters, sometimes in less than 1 m 3.

Embryology Oval or elliptical eggs are large at fertilization, measuring mm in diameter Merriman , are greenish in color, and develop in the mouth of the male parent.

Parental care by males offsets low fecundity of females, which have only 20 - 65 eggs per spawning event. Numerous small, non-functioning eggs are often found attached to large, viable eggs.

Gunter speculated that these smaller eggs might be utilized as a food source for males brooding offspring. Larvae measure 29 - 45 mm 1.

Adult characteristics are present at absorption of the yolk sac but juveniles tend to remain with the parent, returning to its mouth for protection, for a short time thereafter. Juveniles measure mm 2. However, Tabb and Manning reported that catfishes in southern Florida waters remain inshore year-round. Salinity Spawning salinity parts per thousand ppt Jones et al.

Harvey reported that yolk sac larvae of the sea catfish were collected at salinities ranging from 8. Juveniles in the same study were collected at salinities of However, the presence of 0. Raising the level to 0. Algae, seagrasses, cnidarians, sea cucumbers, gastropods, polychaetes, shrimps, crabs, and smaller fishes comprise the bulk of the diet Merriman Several authors have noted that blue crabs are a principal food source in the sea catfish diet Gunter ; Gallaway and Strawn Males carrying eggs or juveniles do not feed Muncy and Wingo Predators Reported predators of sea catfishes are the longnose gar, bull shark, and large finfishes.

Sea catfishes are also commonly caught as bait for large gamefishes such as the cobia Muncy and Wingo Habitats Benson reported that juvenile sea catfishes tend to remain in lower salinity estuaries and bays in Mississippi Sound. However, Reid , working in Texas, and Pristas and Trent , working in Florida, each reported that juvenile sea catfishes were most commonly collected in offshore trawl sampling, rarely collected while beach seining.

Activity Time Gunter and Jones et al. Fisheries Importance Commercial Fishery Though edible, the sea catfish is not generally consumed as a food fish, with many commercial and sport fishers regarding it as a nuisance species due to its dorsal and pectoral spines, which are large, serrated, and capable of causing painful wounds Muncy and Wingo However, sea catfishes do have limited commercial importance and are harvested for industrial purposes in commercial bottom trawling operations Muncy and Wingo and are taken recreationally for both bait and as food.

From - , 1. Lucie, Martin encompassing the Indian River Lagoon. Figure 1 below shows the dollar value of the commercial fishery of marine catfishes to IRL counties by year. Martin County accounted for the largest percentage of the marine catfish harvest with Lucie County, which accounts for Brevard, Volusia, and Indian River Counties accounted for Martin County again accounts for the bulk of the harvest in , however, the other 4 IRL Counties also saw greatly increased catches of catfishes in this year.

Figure 1. Annual dollar value of the commercial catch of marine catfishes sea catfish and gafftopsail catfish to the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon.

Figure 2. Total marine catfish sea catfish and gafftopsail catfish dollar value and percentage by county for the years - Table 1. Table 2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the marine catfish sea catfish and gafftopsail catfish harvest for the years Table 3.

By-county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the marine catfish sea catfish and gafftopsail catfish harvest from - Recreational Fishery Though the sea catfish is considered a nuisance species by many anglers, it is among the thirty most harvested species within the IRL region based on Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey information compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

From - IRL anglers captured , sea catfishes either for use as bait, or for food. Another , sea catfishes were harvested from other inshore waters, nearshore waters and offshore waters around the IRL. The bulk of the recreational harvest The IRL accounts for Figure 3. Survey data for the sea catfish recreational fishery showing the number of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from - Figure 4.

Summary of the sea catfish recreational harvest and percentage of total by area from - Table 4. Summary data for recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters for the sea catfish, Ariopsis felis, from - Table 5. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the sea catfish harvest for the years - Table 6.

Summary of the sea catfish recreational harvest and percentage of total fish captured in each area from - Life history requirements of selected finfish and shellfish in Mississippi Sound and adjacent areas. Doermann, J. Huddleston, D. Lipsey, and S. Age and rate of growth of the sea catfish, Arius felis, in Mississippi coastal waters. Gallaway, B. Seasonal abundance and distribution of marine fisheries at a hot-water discharge in Galveston Bay, Texas.

Gunter, G. Seasonal variations in abundance of certain estuarine and marine fishes in Louisiana with particular reference to life histories. Observations on breeding of the marine catfish, Gaelichthys felis Linnaeus. Copeia Biological investigation of the St. Lucie estuary Florida in connection with Lake Okeechobee discharges through the St. Lucie Canal. Gulf Res. Harvey, E. Observations on the distribution of the sea catfish Arius felis larvae with and without chorion, with respect to salinity in the Biloxi Bay - Mississippi Sound Area.

Jones, P. Martin, and J. Hardy, Jr.


Human uses



Hardhead catfish



Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory


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