Everyone loves catfish right. It’s smooth and has great meat for cooking. However, a species of catfish that is taking over South Florida lakes is giving the common catfish a bad reputation. The species Loricariidae is commonly referred to as the “armored catfish.” They are implants from South America that are surviving and thriving in South Florida waters, but they are not nearly as welcome as their normal catfish cousins. The name is fitting enough; they are very similar to a common catfish but have fins that are like spikes and rough scales on their backs. So, how did these survivors make their way into Floridian lakes? Well, the armored catfish is a popular species to purchase for aquariums because they have a penchant for algae and help keep fish tanks clean. So, it’s easy to see how they made the jump from local aquariums to the local lakes. All it takes is just a handful released into the wild in a hospitable environment to have a full-fledged invasion on your hands. And that is what is happening in Florida.
So what’s the big deal? Well, the armored catfish cause a variety of problems. First of all, they like to dig holes in the sand along the shoreline. The holes may seem harmless, but it makes it very difficult for humans to walk around the edge of the water. That’s only a minor annoyance. It actually is presenting a danger for some people who like to catch fish with their bare hands. Yes, there are people that like to do this and it even has a name: noodling. Needless to say, setting your hands on an armored catfish can be a painful experience.
The real problem is environmental more than a safety issue. The fish have become so plentiful that they are actually eroding shorelines, some up to 10 feet. The same characteristics that make the fish so handy for fish tanks is a major blow to the rest of the lake ecosystem. To make it worse, they are very difficult to catch. It has been reported that they rarely can be caught by conventional baiting of the hook. They have to be caught in nets or speared. They simply cannot be caught fast enough to control the armored fish population. It is thought that there are millions of these guys wandering in South Florida, and they are at the top of the food chain for the lakes. That means nothing is pursuing these survivors except humans.
Marine biologists predict the problem will only get worse as time passes. Unfortunately the only solution is for residents around lakes to pool together their resources and have professionals come in and take out the fish. This can be quite costly, in some cases topping $100,000.