History of the Wels Catfish in the UK and
The European Wels catfish, Latin name Silurus glanis is wide spread in
Central,southern and Eastern Europe extending as far
east as Kazakhstan and south to Slovenia. Apart from Germany most of
the population of central Europe stems from deliberate
stocking, the Ebro being a Classic example.
Despite it’s size and large mouth the main diet of the catfish is annelid
worms, gastropods, insects, and crustaceans, however
once they attain adult hood nothing is safe from that bucket like mouth.
They have been known to take everything from
frogs,rats and voles to quite large ducks.
The Wels prefers slow sluggish rivers and warm shallow lakes and can
even be found in brackish water in suitable rivers.
Spending a lot of it’s time laying up in holes in the bottom or under
snags the Wels ventures out to actively hunt and is a
formidable predator, when hungry it will feed on the bottom where it
will scavenge pretty much anything that comes it’s
way but prefers to do it’s predatory hunting in open water.
The female produces up to 30,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight. The
male guards the nest until the brood hatches, which,
depending on water temperature, can take from three to ten days. If
the water level decreases too much or too fast the male has
been observed to splash the eggs with the muscular tail in order to
keep them wet. It is argued that alleged attacks by
large catfish may in fact be triggered by swimmers or bathers straying
too close to a male guarding a nest,as they are known
to aggressively protect their eggs. Like most fish that produce huge
numbers of eggs their prolific spawning is negated by
the fact that they are cannibalistic and will feed on each others young.
The eggs of the Wels are highly poisonous and should
never be eaten. The fish however is highly prized as a food source in
Eastern Europe especially. This has had a major impact
on it’s numbers in these areas mainly due to the fact that the best
eating fish is deemed to be under 15 kilograms, so they are taken in
large numbers before they have had a chance to spawn.
The Wels is the second largest freshwater fish in Europe second only
to the Beluga Sturgeon (2,200 lbs)which of course spends part of
it’s life at sea. So the Wels could be the largest truly freshwater
fish in the world!
There is much speculation as to the maximum size that the Wels will
achieve but it is generally accepted that they may attain weights of
at least 600 lbs (caught by a Russian Trawler) or more in favourable
conditions, only time will tell. At present the only substantiated
rod caught claim is of a 316 lb 8 oz fish from the river Po in Italy.
Most of the Catfish in the UK stem from a few fish that were given to
the Duke of Bedford as a present and stocked
into the lakes at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. They were then redistributed
from there, however these redistributions
were later supplemented by the often illegal importation of larger fish
from the continent, which resulted in the suspension
of the official British rod caught record at 62 lbs in 2000 (R.Garner
withy Pool Bedfordshire). This is a great pity as there
are now some truly large home grown specimens in many fisheries around