By Amelia Blades Steward
Caroline County Public Schools (CCPS) continues to be at the forefront of feeding people on the Mid Shore through creative means. Their Shore Gourmet “Sho Go” Mobile Market provides milk, eggs, soups, frozen meals for one, ready-to-eat meals, and fresh produce in neighborhoods where seniors, families, and young children may have limited access to farmers’ markets due to rural transportation barriers. In November, CCPS is hosting the First Annual Madness on the Marshyhope Invasive Catfish Tournament and Food Festival. The event will educate the public about the invasive species – the blue catfish.
In the July/August 2022 issue of the Bay Journal, it was reported that a study last year showed that blue catfish are eating significant numbers of juvenile crabs and could be part of the issue depressing the harvest numbers for blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
According to NOAA Fisheries, blue catfish can be found in the waters of many states – both coastal and inland. During the 1970s and 1980s, blue catfish were introduced to the James, Rappahannock, and York River basins in Virginia as a new recreational fishery. They have expanded their range throughout the Chesapeake and are now considered an invasive species, eating many native species, such as striped bass, blue crab, shad, herring, Atlantic sturgeon, and even adult ducks. They can grow to be five feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. In some water tributaries, blue catfish make up 70% of the biomass. Because blue catfish are so abundant and eat a wide variety of species, they are having negative impacts on the local ecosystem and are threatening the livelihoods of local watermen.
When asked why CCPS stepped in to help find a creative way to help manage this new invasive species, Roxanne Wolf, Development and Education Coordinator for Shore Gourmet, comments, “It’s almost like everything leads back to feeding people. Our initial involvement began four years ago when we decided to provide catfish cakes in the schools. More recently, a local food bank was looking for new protein choices for its recipients and our two worlds collided. We found out that local watermen weren’t making a lot harvesting blue catfish and we needed more protein in our food pantries for our families. So, our efforts started around being able to harvest blue catfish for the food bank.”
According to Roxanne, the effort has evolved now to many groups from both sides of the Bay getting together to try to find a solution to this problem. Local watermen were not harvesting the blue catfish because they weren’t making enough per pound, mainly due to a lack of local certified processors. There are only certain processors that can process blue catfish because it’s the only fish that is under the USDA and requires special processing under a USDA inspector.
Locally, Tilghman Island Seafood is now USDA-inspected and is being utilized to process blue catfish. The result has been that it is now more lucrative for a waterman to sell blue catfish. Blue catfish can now also be purchased in Giant and Whole Foods as an affordable protein option for families. Beth Brewster, Supervisor of Food Services at Caroline County Public Schools, is getting a USDA recipe for blue catfish fish cakes approved through a processor from Pennsylvania so that it can be used for the school systems. The recipe is what Roxanne refers to as “the Poor Man’s Crabcake.”
Roxanne adds, “This is a great stew fish and a great grilling fish – it holds together nicely whether its grilled, fried, baked or smoked. Its taste and texture are similar to rockfish.”
CCPS is following the lead of the Coastal Conservation Association and Salisbury University, which have done research on the blue catfish and hosted a tournament to raise awareness about the fish among the general public.
“We thought for Caroline County and the Mid Shore that we should do a tournament to raise awareness about the blue catfish while also raising money for the local Lions Club. This will be a great recreational event for folks,” Roxanne adds.
Madness on the Marshyhope Invasive Blue Catfish Tournament and Food Festival will be held on Saturday, November 5, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Federalsburg Marina Park. The Town of Federalsburg, Federalsburg Lions Club, Federalsburg VFW, Caroline County Parks and Recreation, Coastal Conservation Association, and Caroline County Public Schools are sponsoring this family-friendly all-day event and tournament. The event will also include music, food trucks, and educational presentations from the Department of Natural Resources while anglers fish. There will be a post-tournament dinner at 5:30 p.m. that includes a fish fry for the fish that are caught. There is also a free Youth Fishing Derby to learn how to catch, filet, and cook fish. In addition, there will be prizes for the fish caught.
“You can help the Chesapeake Bay every time you enjoy a tasty meal of blue catfish,” Roxanne concludes.
Tickets for the Blue Catfish Tournament and the After Party can be purchased online at madnessonthemarshyhope.simpletix.com.
Blue Catfish Cakes
Courtesy of Caroline County Public Schools
1 lb chopped blue catfish
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp parsley
¾ cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/3 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup oil
Mix all the ingredients together, except for the oil, and form into cakes. Pour oil into frying pan and place cakes in oil on low-medium heat until cakes are cooked halfway through (about 5-10 min). Flip cakes and leave in heated pan until cooked fully through (about 5-10 min). Remove from pan, allow to cool, and enjoy.