Catfish were introduced in New Zealand in the 1870s. These hardy fish prey on small native fish, as well as eat and compete with koura.

Brown bullhead catfish, caught near Kuratau river mouth.
Brown bullhead catfish caught in Kuratau

It is not clear why catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) were  introduced into New Zealand from America in the 1870s. They are now widespread in the Waikato River system including, Lake Taupo, where they have built up to large numbers.

Description and life history

Catfish are robust fish with distinctive whisker-like barbels (feelers). They have sharp spines at the front of the pectoral and pelvic fin. In New Zealand they often grow to 30 cm and 2 kg.

They can survive in a wide range of temperatures and tolerate poor water quality. They are able to survive for long periods out of water and are difficult to kill. 

What damage do they do?

They stir up sediment and prey on small native fish, fish eggs and are known to eat and compete with koura (native freshwater crayfish). 

Where are they found?

Catfish prefer slow flowing streams and the edges of lakes, often amongst aquatic plants. They are widespread in the Waikato River system, but are also found in Northland and there are two isolated populations in the South Island. 

What to do when you catch catfish

All catfish must be killed on capture and not returned to the water alive.

Legal designation

No status at present.

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