Conservation status
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Ariidae
Genus: Ariopsis
Species: A. felis
Binomial name
Ariopsis felis
(Linnaeus, 1766)

The hardhead catfish (Ariopsis felis) is a saltwater species of sea catfish similar to the gafftopsail catfish. It is one of thirteen species in the genus Ariopsis. The common name, hardhead catfish, is derived from the presence of a hard, bony plate extending rearward toward the dorsal fin from a line between the catfish's eyes.[1] It is an elongate marine catfish that reaches 19.5 in. (49.5 cm) in length. The average weight is under 1 pound, but they may reach up to 3 pounds. They are often a dirty gray color on top, with white undersides. The world record hardhead catfish was 3 pounds, 5 ounces.

Hardhead catfish spawn during the early summer in estuarine and near-shore waters along the coast. The large (8-12 mm) fertilized eggs are collected by the male, and held in his mouth until hatching. Males do not feed during the one-month period while larvae and small juveniles are protected in this fashion.[2]

## Habits, distribution, and characteristics

Hardhead catfish are found mostly in the near shore waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean, around the southeast coast of the United States, around the Florida Keys, and around the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.[3][4] Hardhead catfish are also found in brackish estuaries and river mouths where the bottom is sandy or muddy.[5] It tends to move from shallower to deeper waters in the winter months.

The hardhead catfish has four barbels under the chin, with two more at the corners of the mouth.[6] These barbels help the catfish find crabs, fish and shrimp in the muddy bays where they live. The dorsal and pectoral fins each are supported by a sharp, slime-covered barbed spine. The dorsal spine is normally held erect when the fish is excited and a tennis shoe or even a leather-soled shoe offers little protection. The gafftopsail catfish looks similar to the hardhead catfish, but its dorsal spine has a distinctive fleshy extension (like the fore-and-aft topsail of a ship).

## Fishing

Hardhead catfish are voracious feeders and will bite on almost any natural bait. Hardhead catfish are also known to steal bait. Shrimp is a particularly effective bait to use. When fishing for this species in fresh water, assorted meats tend to work best as bait. For example: bacon, chicken, cuts of steak, and smaller fish. Hardhead catfish are generally regarded as an undesirable catch by most anglers, this may be largely due to the risk associated with handling the venomous fish as well as its 'fishy' taste as opposed to desirable game fish. A size 1 hook is usually effective for catching this fish. Anglers commonly use lightweight tackle if they are fishing specifically for this species, but many others use heavyweight tackle because the hardhead catfish seems to bite equally well on both. Care must be taken in handling hardhead catfish because the slime on their spines is mildly poisonous.[7] If the skin is punctured, pain and swelling will ensue, and infection may set in. The spine is barbed, which makes withdrawal an even more unpleasant process.

Hardhead catfish are edible but, like all catfish, require some effort to clean. It is one of the thirty most recreationally harvested species in the 5-county area (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin) encompassing the Indian River Lagoon (IRL)in central Florida.[8] From 1997-2001, 361,022 hardhead catfish were harvested within 200 miles of the shore in the IRL region.

Hardhead are also harvested for industrial purposes in commercial bottom trawling operations. Annual harvests vary greatly, but from 1987–2001, 1.04 million pounds of marine catfishes (including both the hardhead catfish and the gafftopsail catfish) were harvested in the IRL region. The harvest was valued at \$777,497.[9]

## Weight and Length

Hardhead catfish weigh on average one pound and measure ten to twelve inches long.

As hardhead catfish grow longer, they increase in weight. The relationship between length and weight is not linear. The relationship between total length (L, in inches) and total weight (W, in pounds) for nearly all species of fish can be expressed by an equation of the form:

$W = cL^b\!\,$

Invariably, b is close to 3.0 for all species, and c is a constant that varies among species. The relationship described in this section suggests that a 20-inch hardhead catfish will weigh about 3 pounds, while a 25-inch hardhead catfish will likely weigh at least 6 pounds.

## References

1. ^ Webster, Pearse. Hardhead Catfish. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. http://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/Hardheadcatfish.pdf
2. ^ Webster, Pearse. Hardhead Catfish. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. http://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/Hardheadcatfish.pdf
3. ^ Webster, Pearse. Hardhead Catfish. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. http://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/Hardheadcatfish.pdf
4. ^ Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2009. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. http://www.fishbase.org version (07/2009)