The Problem With Fishing For Catfish in the Anacostia River

By: Veronica Pereira, Stewardship intern

You might be asking yourself, “What could be so bad about fishing for catfish in the Anacostia?” The answer is that it’s not the actual act of fishing in the Anacostia that is bad. The problem with fishing for catfish is that if the catfish are consumed, they may cause serious health effects on those who eat them. 


Brown bullheads like this one are commonly caught from the Anacostia River by anglers and used for consumption (including people at greater risk such as pregnant women and children). These fish are known to have carcinogens in their bodies making their consumption a potential and worrisome public health issue.

Recreational fishing in the river can be a fun, relaxing way to enjoy your weekend and is encouraged in the Anacostia River however fishing for consumption is not.  Some anglers on the Anacostia River are unaware of the serious health threat that fish, especially bottom feeders such as catfish pose. Bottom-feeding fish tend to eat a plethora of critters and other organic matter from the bottom including shellfish (which are essentially the filters of the river), that's why they are more highly contaminated with certain toxins. Bottom dwelling fish are often used as indicators of the water quality of habitats in water bodies. 

A common native catfish that is found in the Anacostia River is the Brown Bullhead. However, because of pollution these catfish often have cancerous lesions or tumors and contain PCB's in their bodies. PCB's are a carcinogen, which means it is a toxin that is directly involved in causing cancer. Although not all fish in the Anacostia are completely written off for consumption. According to the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) one may consume one half pound of large mouth bass, or one half pound per week of sunfish or other fish. The DDOE also recommends that when eating fish from the Anacostia trim away the fat because the contaminants tend to be more saturated in the fatty tissue of the fish. The MD Department of the Environment has its own fish consumption advisory for the Maryland waters. It is important to recognize and spread the word of the risks of consuming fish from the Anacostia River.

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