DES MOINES (MCT) – Don’t expect to see any legal hand-to-fin combat in Iowa anytime soon.
A Senate Natural Resources and Environment subcommittee Wednesday put the kibosh on a bill that would have required the state Natural Resource Commission to allow catfish to be taken by hand fishing.
“I don’t think this is going to go anywhere,” said subcommittee chairman Sen. Chris Brase, D-Muscatine, after hearing concerns raised by a state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expert who said most Iowa catfish anglers likely would oppose an activity that could cause local shortages of trophy-size fish.
Joe Larscheid, chief of the DNR’s fisheries bureau, said hand fishing – also called noodling, grabbling, hogging or tickling – usually involves catching large blue or flathead catfish by cornering them in a hole or cavity along a river or stream bank, and inserting a hand into the fish’s mouth in order to pull it off a nest of eggs and harvest it.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a total of 37 states have blue or flathead catfish and of those 13 currently allow some type of hand fishing. The activity is the subject of a number of YouTube videos and reality TV features.
Hand fishing for catfish species and other game fish is prohibited in Iowa due to concerns over the potential for the activity to negatively impact local catfish populations. Hand-fishing is permitted for nongame species such as carp, buffalo, suckers, gar, dogfish and others, according to DNR officials.
Larscheid said statewide catfish populations are healthy and not likely hurt by hand fishing, but the effects on local fisheries could be substantial.
“Catfish are the No. 1 sport fish in Iowa,” Larscheid said. “Our data shows that people go after them big time.”
Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, said he proposed the bill because for a time hand fishing was legal in Missouri on an experimental basis (until 2006) and it didn’t make sense to him that something legal on one side of a border river would be barred on the other side of the same river.
“It’s a sport. It’s legal in quite a few other states,” he told the subcommittee members, confiding to them that he had done it himself in the past. “I really see no down side to it. There are plenty of fish in the water for everybody.”
However, DNR officials said many anglers do not view hand fishing as a fair-chase method, likening it to “spotlighting” deer, baiting turkeys or hunting from a vehicle. They told committee members that the NRC has the ability under Iowa law to use the administrative rule-making process for a public process to allow hand fishing of catfish if Iowa anglers want to pursue that sort of harvest.
Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, opposed the measure and asked DNR officials if it was “a form of hand to fin combat – something that they affirmed. Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, said she wanted more public input on the topic before moving the issue farther in the legislative process.
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