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Are Pay Lakes Destroying the Ohio River?

Images provided by Heath Malone

Is commercial fishing and pay lakes exploiting fish populations for profit at the expense of the public?

The sun is gleaming off the water, the bait is in the cooler and the snacks and refreshments are nearby. Sounds like a perfect start for a day of fishing, but what would it be like if the fish weren’t plentiful?

Fishing on the river can be the first experience with nature for many future anglers, but now let’s picture that opportunity vanish because of the exploitation of commercial fisherman and demand of stocking pay lakes.

I had a chance to catch up with Heath Malone, an avid cat fisherman that spends his most of his available time on the water chasing catfish. Over the course of the last few years, the overall health and population of catfish in the Ohio River has been diminishing, according to Malone.

But what is causing this phenomena?

Malone and many other fisherman believe it’s the fact that thousands of pounds of catfish are pulled from the river. To be clear, the reason the demand is increasing for catfish from the river, is the size of river catfish versus farm fish. Catfish grow slow, approximately 1-2 pounds per year, therefore farmers cannot generated trophy catfish at a profitable rate.


Another issue arrises when bigger catfish are introduced into the pay lakes. Here’s what Malone had to say,

These pay lakes can not support large catfish and it is certain death within just a couple weeks. This is why they have to stock thousands of pounds several times a year. In the pictures you will notice they have sores all over them. This is caused by the chemicals they put in to the water to make the fish bite. In the pay lake industry it is called juicing.” 


For reference, take a look at a healthy large catfish from the river.


It’s clear the catfish are unable to adjust properly to the pay lakes.

Removing these large catfish could hinder fisheries for decades, because these fish are usually breeders laying thousands of eggs every year.

Most would find the most controversial aspect pay lakes, is the fact commercial fisherman are taking live fish from public waterways to sell at a profit.

Many would assert pay lakes are impacting river catfish populations, but too what extent is up for debate.

The question must be asked, should the transportation of live fish from public waters be illegal on a commercial level?


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Are Pay Lakes Destroying the Ohio River?