Are there catfish in the ocean? We all know that catfish like hanging out in our rivers, lakes, and ponds. As catfish are an incredibly diverse ray-finned fish species, there are certain ones that are the ocean-dwelling types!
In fact, catfish skeletons and remains often get washed ashore, particularly on the pristine beaches of Florida.
Are There Actually Catfish in the Ocean?
Most definitely! Are catfish saltwater fish? There are particular species that prefer saltwater and brackish water.
Take note: it’s not possible to take a madtom or channel catfish and release it into the ocean as it will just die. The same is true for hardhead catfish that prefer saltwater. You can’t take it and place it in a river or pond.
Saltwater Catfish Species
Now let’s discuss the two species of catfish that are abundant in the salt bodies of water in North America:
- Hardhead catfish
- Gafftopsail catfish
The hardhead catfish is notable for the stinger that’s located at the front part of each fin which is riddled with venomous cells. Keep in mind that the barbels or whiskers don’t sting, regardless of the catfish species. A fully grown hardhead catfish can weigh up to 4 lbs. and can live from 4 to 8 years.
The gafftopsail catfish, on the other hand, is unique from its back dorsal fin which sticks up straight from its spine. The catfish can grow much bigger and heavier compared to the hardhead catfish.
A fully grown gafftopsail catfish can weigh up to 10 lbs. There are anglers that have reported spotting gafftopsails that are massive, approximately 24 lbs.
The fish can live up to 10 years and it is one of the species of catfish that has a spine that’s entirely poisonous. If you’ll be handling the fish, it’s important that you only touch it from the bottom.
Brackish Water Catfish Species
Catfish are found in the ocean but there are more species of catfish that prefer brackish waters.
The following are the catfish species that can be found in North America and the rest of the world’s brackish waters:
- Berney’s shark catfish
- Banjo catfish
- Ictalurus punctatus catfish
- Silurus glanis catfish
- Clariid catfish
- Australian shark catfish
Many were originally from salt or fresh water but they’ve been found thriving in a mixed acidic setting while some are able to tolerate it.
Dangers of Handling Saltwater Catfish
You should know that many saltwater catfish species are poisonous. There are those that are completely harmless; however, you should still be cautious nonetheless when handling them.
Catfish in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida are poisonous, including the gaff topsail. Although they’re not lethal, you can get an infection without proper medical attention and treatment. If you know the proper way of preparing saltwater catfish, then it’s safe for consumption.
There are those that really enjoy eating saltwater species of catfish; however, there are more that think they don’t taste anything like the freshwater species.
They also have a poor reputation among anglers. When they’re caught accidentally, they’re thrown back into the water. If you decide to try eating saltwater catfish, it’s best enjoyed as a deep-fried dish.
Habitat of Saltwater Catfish Species
Western Atlantic Ocean is where hardhead catfish prefer to swim about. A great sea catfish location is in the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico close to the shore.
Hardhead catfish occasionally migrate to brackish waters with muddy bottoms but they don’t enter bodies of water that are fully freshwater.
Gafftopsail catfish can be found in the Atlantic Ocean as well. The fish enjoys migrating to South America and the Caribbean seas. It also experiments with brackish waters with relatively good bottom or floor conditions. Similar to the hardhead catfish, it never fully goes into freshwater.
Predators and Prey of Saltwater Catfish
Sharks are the biggest predator of the saltwater species of catfish, especially the bull and tiger sharks. Otters and alligators can also be predators, but it will depend on the area or region where the catfish is located.
Cobia and other bigger finned fish eat saltwater catfish species as well. Humans and birds are common predators, too, but saltwater catfish can be predatory towards other species of catfish, most especially those that are smaller in size.
Catfish will eat just about anything that is around them. The go-to meals of catfish in saltwater are the following:
- Sea waste
- Smaller fish
- Seagrass and seaweed
- Sea cucumbers
- Dead fish and other animals
There are more that can be added to the list of catfish food sources as these species will consume just about anything and everything.
Reproduction of Saltwater Catfish
The gafftopsail and hardhead catfish species are paternal mouthbrooders. They both breed starting the month of May to September.
The males and females alike reach sexual maturity after two years. After fertilizing, males carry eggs in their mouths until they hatch. Several unfertilized eggs will be leftover and then attach to viable eggs.
They are absorbed by the males for feeding. This is essential as a male catfish can’t feed for 3 to 6 days which is the duration for the eggs to hatch.
Mouthbrooding in male catfish offers plenty of benefits. The biggest is the safety of catfish eggs. The females of gafftopsail and hardhead catfish only lay up to 60 eggs each session. It’s rather low for saltwater fish.
If you want to try catching saltwater catfish with catfish rods, you will be happy to know that saltwater catfishing can be lots of fun and action-packed.
Try using the oiliest, bloodiest, and smelliest baits you can find if you’ll be after saltwater catfish. Professional anglers enjoy using pieces of squid and mackerel.
You can also opt for cut-up pieces of other fish you’ve caught, frogs, and/or shrimp. Gafftopsail and hardhead catfish are among the easiest species you can catch.