Invasive Rio Grande Cichlids are taking over City Park
Anglers at City Park in New Orleans have always had a healthy population of bluegill and other sunfish to catch, but that’s changed within the past few years. The Rio Grande cichlid, a highly invasive species of fish, is taking over.
Lately, whenever Danny Malone of Mandeville goes fishing in the park, he’s been catching a lot of cichlids. He would rather catch native sunfish, but he said they are being overshadowed by cichlids.
“Most cichlids I’ve been catching are big enough to eat, but any other panfish species are undersized. You can still catch plenty of bluegill and other panfish, but they are all very small,” he said.
Malone has been catching the invasive fish on ultralight gear while using red worms and earthworms for bait on long-shank No. 8 hooks under a cork. That’s a normal rig for the native panfish, too, so he said anglers don’t have to do anything different to catch cichlids. He finds the cichlids like to hang out under lily pads and other surface weeds.
“If you fish so that your cork rests up against the edge of a mat of grass or lily pads, you’ll catch plenty of cichlids,” he said. “These are tropical aquarium fish, so they are actually quite beautiful fish. It’s really kind of a shame that they are invasive fish. They are fun to catch and are really good-looking fish.”
And while many other anglers also enjoy catching these fish and admiring their beauty, Malone said plenty of folks don’t realize that it’s illegal to release these fish.
“They are under a kill order from the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries,” he said. “You can’t throw them back. You are required by law to either take them with you or dispose of them. Anyone who throws them back is breaking the law and contributing to the decline of our native fish.”
It’s taken some anglers a while to come to terms with eating fish that they’re more likely to see in an aquarium, but many anglers say it’s just like eating a bluegill or other sunfish. Malone said the fish seem a little oilier when cleaning them, but he believes most anglers will agree that the taste is much like any other panfish.
The cichlids are in all the ponds at City Park, but it’s unclear if any populations exist in other bodies of water throughout Louisiana. Malone hopes not, and plans to do his part to thin the herd in City Park.
“I want to do all I can to help get the word out that anglers need to help keep these fish in check,” he said.