Fishing for Airbreathing Catfish in Florida

    By Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Staff (FWC)


    These are elongated fishes with long dorsal and anal fins and four pairs of barbels.  An accessory organ (the suprabranchial arborescent organ) associated with the gill cavity allows the fish to "breathe" air.  Typical species have stout pectoral spines but lack a dorsal spine.  Color is typically gray to brown, but albinos are common in the aquarium industry.


    There are 13 recognized genera in the family Clariidae with approximately 100 species.  All are prohibited in Florida fishing laws, except the walking catfish (Clarias batrachus) which is restricted.


    Generally southeast Asia, including Pakistan, eastern India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, they have been moved about, and their native range is no longer distinct.  The walking catfish (C. batrachus) is established in south Florida.


    Typically found in transient waters where other fishes do not thrive.

    Spawning Habitats:

    The airbreathing catfish build nests of detritus and vegetative matter and the male protects both the eggs and young fry.

    Feeding Habits:

    Benthic nocturnal omnivores, feeding on most any type of protein they can locate on the bottom at night.

    Age and Growth:

    May reach 2-feet in length.

    Potential Concerns:

    The entire family Clariidae is prohibited in Florida (except the walking catfish Clarias batrachus, which is already established and hence is restricted).  Initial concerns dealt with their somewhat unique ability to move over moist ground between water bodies and occupy a niche to which native species are not well adapted.  They are food fishes in their native range where their robust survival out of water allows them to be kept fresh for the market.

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