Researchers test correlations between algae & catfish; SWFL still has looming questions

Researchers noticed abnormal behavior between catfish and the algae in Moore Haven.

It’s giving these fish an advantage, but now they’re testing to see if this reaction could be a threat to the environment.

Taylor Hancock, a Florida Gulf Coast University student and researcher, is studying the strange phenomenon of the bottom feeders moving to the surface.

“Catfish want to try and survive here so they’re resorting to feeding off the top layer of algae which is not normally there,” Hancock said.

Hancock said these non-native, invasive catfish are also acting differently.

“They are highly skittish, really avoidant of Predators so to even see them near the surface feeding on this algae, actively sitting there long periods of time is strange,” Hancock said.

Hancock said the catfish are now competing other species in the water.

“These cat fish are feeding from the top just sort of giving them a leg up on our usual native species which have to either leave or die or just try to survive through other means,” Hancock said. “Where as these catfish have this really abundant food source that actually helps them survive.”

He added the way they’re using could also be hurting the ecosystem.

“The algae may actually be getting nutrients from the catfish’s digestive system and passed out stronger than ever, able to reproduce stronger and more rapidly than it was on its own without being eaten,” Hancock said.

Hancock is taking samples of the catfish’s fecal matter to test for high algae concentrations. He tested previous samples last week and said the green algae was still showing up.

What comes next?

Southwest Florida residents expressed their frustrations over the algal blooms plaguing area waterways.

“Not only is it ugly, but it’s just it’s just so damaging to the environment,” said Fort Myers resident Katherine Boylan.

Lawmakers say there’s a long-term solution to this algae problem. But what happens for the short term?

Southwest Florida residents still have many looming questions.

WINK News reporter Morgan Rynor worked to get these questions answered. Watch the full segment below:

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Taylor Bisacky