Freshwater Catfish, Tandanus tandanus (Mitchell 1838)

Other Names: Catfish, Cattie, Dewfish, Eeltail Catfish, Eel-tail Freshwater Catfish, Eel-tailed Catfish, Freshwater Jewfish, Jewfish, Kenaru, Tandan, Tandan Catfish

Freshwater Catfish, Tandanus tandanus. Source: Gunther Schmida / License: CC BY Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike


An olive greenish, greyish to brown eel-tailed catfish often with pale yellowish mottling on the rear of the body, and a whitish underside. Juveniles have darker mottling. The Freshwater Catfish has 4 pairs of barbels surrounding the mouth, and sharp serrated dorsal- and pectoral-fin spines which are venomous and can cause a very painful wound.

Although once widespread in eastern Australia, Freshwater Catfish populations in the Murray-Darling Basin have declined significantly since the 1980s.

Video of a pair of Freshwater Catfish in a dam on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022, Tandanus tandanus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 May 2024,

Freshwater Catfish, Tandanus tandanus (Mitchell 1838)

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Pioneer River, Mackay, Queensland, south to the Clarence River, northern New South Wales, along with lakes and streams on Fraser Island and North Stradbroke Island off south-east Queensland. The species also occurs throughout much of the Murray-Darling Basin (except slopes and upper reaches of the southern basin). Populations have been established outside their natural distributions in all the coastal catchments between the Great Lakes (mid-north coast) and Shoalhaven (south coast) of New South Wales, numerous river basins e.g. Glenelg, Werribee, Richardson, La Trobe and Yarra Rivers, and several small impoundments beyond its natural elevational limits in the Victorian tributaries of the Murray River.

Freshwater Catfish were once widespread in eastern Australia, however, populations have suffered severe declines in both distribution and abundance since the 1980s. The species remains relatively common in coastal catchments from the Hunter River (NSW) north, whereas it is considered endangered in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Occurs in a broad range of habitats including large lowland rivers down to the tidal limit, small upland streams, rocky high flow waterways, shallow lagoon habitats, lakes and dams.


First dorsal-fin I, 6 (or fewer); continuous dorsal-caudal-anal fin rays 150; Pectoral-fin I, 10; Pelvic-fin I, 5; Gill rakers 23-32.

Body elongate, slender, laterally compressed and tapering posteriorly; tail pointed; head broad and flattened; mouth large; lips thick, fleshy; four pairs of barbels around the mouth, 2 pairs below the upper lip and 2 pairs above; lateral line well defined and straight; nostrils tubular, on front border of upper lip; vomerine teeth small, conical, arranged in a semi-circular patch.

Scales absent, body covered in smooth, slimy skin.

First dorsal fin small, moderately elevated with a stout, serrated spine and 6 or fewer soft rays; 2nd dorsal and anal fins confluent with caudal fin, originating on middle of back; caudodorsal fin base about 50% SL; pectoral fin with sharp spine on outer edge.


Maximum size to 90 cm TL, commonly to 45 cm.


Grey, brown, reddish-brown, purplish or olive-green, whitish on belly and underside of head. Individuals under about 30 cm TL frequently have light grey or tan mottling on the sides.


An opportunisitc carnivore - feeds mostly on aquatic insects, yabbies, prawns, microcrustaceans, molluscs and some small fishes, taken from the bottom.


Sexually mature at 3-5 years. Spawning occurs during spring and summer when water temperatures rise to between 20 and 24°C.

Males construct a circular gravel and pebble nest with a central depression into which females lay large, spherical non-adhesive eggs (~3 mm diameter). The larvae hatch after about 7 days, and measure about 7.0 mm TL, and the barbels are well formed by 12 mm. Freshwater Catfish are known to spawn multiple times during a season.


Although once popular with recreational anglers and considered excellent eating, fishing for Freshwater Catfish is now banned in many areas and severely restricted in others. For information on current regulations, please refer to the respective State Fisheries websites.


Numerous factors are thought to have contributed to the decline of Freshwater Catfish populations in the Murray-Darling Basin since the 1970s. These include habitat degradation and barriers to movement, and increased predation by and competition with introduced species such as Common Carp (which has similar feeding habits) and Redfin.

The Freshwater Catfish population in the Murray-Darling Basin is listed as:

  • New South Wales Fisheries Management Act 1994: Endangered
  • Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988: Threatened (Action Statement)
  • South Australian Fisheries Management Act 2007: Protected
  • Remarks


    The specific name tandanus is a latinization of Tandan, an aboriginal name for this catfish in New South Wales, Australia.

    Species Citation

    Plotosus (Tandanus) tandanus Mitchell, 1838, Three expeditions into the interior of Eastern Australia 1: opp. 44, 95, Pl. 5 (fig. 2). Type locality: lagoon near Tangulda, Namoi River, and a river between Gwydir River and MacIntyre River, New South Wales.


    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022


    Atlas of Living Australia

    Freshwater Catfish, Tandanus tandanus (Mitchell 1838)


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    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37192006

    Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

    Danger:Venomous spines

    Fishing:Recreational fish


    Max Size:90 cm TL


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