New Science: Giant Cats Are Not As Old As You Think

Recent testing of huge record-size catfish has given surprising answers about catfish longevity.

Christopher Halley with giant catfish
Christopher Halley’s 104-pound cat has been aged at 14 years old. Courtesy Christopher Halley

Early last April the Mississippi blue catfish record was shattered when angler Eugene Cronley of Brandon, Miss. caught a 131-pound cat following a brutal half-hour fight. He caught the fish near the town of Natchez in the southern reaches of the Mississippi River.

Cronley’s massive fish was 56.6 inches long with a girth of 41 inches and it was caught from the same river area where the previous state record 95-pound and 101-pound blue cats were landed.

A few months after Cronley’s record catch, Christopher Halley of Brookhaven, Miss. landed a 104-pound blue catfish from the same area of the Mississippi River using a trot line, setting a state record for that method of fishing.

Apparently, 100-pound class Mississippi blue catfish are more common than some anglers believe, which seemed unusual to many people who thought that it took many decades to grow fish of such outlandish proportions.

But some recent scientific sleuthing by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) has proven that big cats can reach staggering proportions in a fraction of the time many anglers believe.

The MDWFP aged Cronley’s 131-pounder at 20 years. Halley’s 104-pound cat was about 14 years old.

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Ring growths on catfish otoliths
Mississippi biologists counted ring growths on catfish otoliths to determine their ages. Courtesy MDWFP

State biologists aged the big cats by viewing the fish otoliths under a microscope. Otoliths are commonly known as “earstones.” They are hard, calcium carbonate structures located directly behind the brain of bony fish. Counting growth rings of fish otoliths is done much the same way trees are aged, by their trunk growth rings.

“They (MDWFP) called me last week and told me how old my 131-pound catfish was,” Cronley told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. “I figured at least 30 years. He gained a lot of weight in 20 years. He was eating pretty good.”

“I thought maybe 30 years,” Halley said about his 104-pound blue cat.

Halley said some people believed his cat was 100 years old, or more.

It’s common to see blue cats up 10 years of age, Jerry Brown director with the MDWFP, told the Clarion Ledger. Brown has seen some Mississippi blue cats up to 25 years old.

“In the Mississippi River they have plenty to eat, so they can get to that (100-pound plus) size,” Brown said.

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