Missouri is blessed with a diverse natural landscape, and this diversity of habitats has led to our great variety of fish. We have more than 200 kinds of fish, more than are found in most neighboring states.
The pygmy sunfish and least darter can be mature at less than an inch in length; the paddlefish and blue catfish can reach weights of more than 100 pounds.
Different waters have their own characteristic fish. Darters generally prefer rocky riffles in clear Ozark streams. The sicklefin chub is found only in the muddy, turbulent waters of the Missouri and lower Mississippi rivers. Learning about fish means learning about their habitats.
Except for lampreys—which represent a very primitive group of vertebrates that lack jaws—Missouri’s fishes are all “bony fishes,” a group that includes nearly all the fish in the world today except for sharks and rays.
Fishes live in water, “breathe” with gills and have fins instead of legs. Most are covered with scales. Most fish in Missouri “look” like fish and could never be confused with anything else. True, lampreys and eels have snakelike bodies—but they also have fins and smooth, slimy skin, which snakes do not.
Fish are significant in many ways
- They are vitally important worldwide for food and, for commercial fisheries, as a source of income.
- In Missouri, fishing is a more than $400 million industry, including tackle, permits, bait, guides, boats, boat rentals, food, lodging and transportation. It is an activity that draws many nonfishers into the outdoors, too!
- Fish play important roles in the food chain. Plants or aquatic invertebrates are eaten by small fish, which are in turn eaten by bigger ones. Many species—raccoon, herons, snakes and people—eat fish.
- Fish serve as hosts for larval mollusks. Without their temporary attachment to the fish, the mollusks could not live.
- Aquarium keeping is a popular hobby and a multibillion-dollar global industry. In Missouri, anyone with a fishing permit can possess native nongame species in aquaria, if they are collected according to the rules outlined in the Wildlife Code of Missouri.