Connecticut recalls white catfish record, finding photos not enough and body of evidence eaten

·3 min read

Connecticut’s fish and wildlife division reversed its recent call of a state-record white catfish, saying images of the catch proved “ambiguous and inconclusive.”

“Due to questions raised both internally at (the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) and by outside sources, DEEP is recalling its initial declaration of a new state record white catfish caught in Coventry Lake...,” the agency posted on its Facebook page Monday.

The angler, Ben Tomkunas of Coventry, said Monday night that he was so angry with the state’s flip-flop that “my teeth hurt from grinding.” Although he did not preserve the fish for examination, Tomkunas said he submitted more than enough evidence and the reversal makes no sense.

Tomkunas claimed he caught a 21.3-pound white catfish late on Aug. 21. The weight of the 38-inch-long fish would have crushed the state record of 12.7 pounds and was a contender for the world record, which stands at 19 pounds, 5 ounces.

Questions focused more on the species - white or channel catfish - than on the weight, DEEP spokesman Will Healey said Tuesday.

Tomkunas took photos and video of the fish and also snapped a picture of the digital readout on a friend’s scale and submitted the evidence to the state. Mike Beauchene, the state’s supervising fisheries biologist, has said that he and other biologists scrutinized the images and concluded that Tomkunas’s catch was indeed a white catfish as opposed to a channel cat.

“Holy White Catfish Batman!” Connecticut Fish and Wildlife posted on its Facebook page about two weeks ago, verifying the shattering of the state record.

Asked at the time whether he had preserved the fish, Tomkunas said he gave it to his grandfather and it was eaten. A fish and wildlife official wrote in the Facebook post Monday that without the ability to examine the actual fish, no definitive call can be made.

“To maintain the integrity of the state record dataset,” the post said, “we are reversing the initial announcement that this 21.3 pound fish was the new state record white catfish. We apologize for this error.”

Asked Tuesday whether all state record fish (not including catch and release) have included an official examination of the dead fish, Healey said most freshwater fish in the state can be definitively identified by a photo or video.

But channel and white catfish are hard to distinguish, Healey said, and “you need good photos of the correct body parts.”

The anal fin on white catfish is shorter than on channel catfish and the head and mouth are generally larger and wider than channel catfish, according to a description on DEEP’s website - https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Fishing/Freshwater/Freshwater-Fishes-of-Connecticut/White-Catfish.

“Multiple staff reviewed the photos and video, and there was not 100% agreement among the reviewers,” Healey said. “Some leaned toward white catfish, but without the actual body to examine, definitive proof was not possible. The announcement was premature and as such needed to be rescinded.”

Tomkunas, 25, said it’s all “BS” and he will continue to pursue the world record with the International Game Fish Association. He has become a minor celebrity since tales of his catch flashed on news sites around the nation in mid-September. Strangers have stopped to shake his hand, Tomkunas said.

“And now, all of a sudden, poof?” he said.

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com

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