The DNR is particularly concerned about the flathead catfish, a predatory, fish-eating catfish. It became popular in the 1960s when it was stocked in Lake Thurmond and the Santee-Cooper lakes along with blue catfish.
“In those days, it was standard procedure to try to stock different species for food and sport without knowing the long-term effects,” says Thomason. “But the flathead catfish is a top predator in any system.”
The flathead catfish and blue catfish are popular, thriving fish in the vast environment of the Santee-Cooper lakes. However, when they find their way to small, low-fertility river systems like the black waters of the Edisto, they can completely wipe out native species like bullheads and shellcrackers.
Georgia has made several unsuccessful attempts to eradicate the flathead catfish, but the animal’s reproductive prowess and ability to tolerate both warm and cool waters make it extremely versatile. The DNR projects that South Carolina may be able to establish a minimal level of control by applying angling pressure, but the flathead catfish is now a permanent part of the Palmetto State’s ecosystem.
“These catfish are an example of invasive species that some people are happy to see and other people see as a real problem,” says Thomason. “With some other species, everyone is in agreement that we don’t want them.”