How Long Can Catfish Live Out of Water?

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How Long Can Catfish Live Out of Water

Catfish are known for their ability to survive in a variety of environments, including murky waters and low-oxygen conditions. As someone who enjoys fishing, you may have encountered a catfish that was out of water for a period of time. But how long can catfish live out of water? Can they breathe out of the water? The short answer is yes, thanks to a special organ known as the suprabranchial organ. In this article, we will explore the factors that affect a catfish’s ability to survive out of water, such as temperature and oxygen levels, and provide tips on how to keep them alive after catching them.

How Long Can Catfish Survive Out of Water?

If you have ever wondered how long a catfish can survive out of water, the answer is not straightforward. The survival time of a catfish out of water depends on several factors, such as the species, size, temperature, humidity, and oxygen level of the catfish and its environment.


Channel catfish, for example, can survive up to 15 hours out of water if kept moist and cool. Flathead catfish can survive up to 8 hours out of water if kept moist and cool. Walking catfish, also known as Clarias batrachus, can survive up to 24 hours out of water if kept moist and warm. Electric catfish, on the other hand, can survive up to several days out of water if kept moist and warm.

It’s important to note that these are just examples, and not all catfish can survive for the same amount of time out of water. Catfish have a unique ability to breathe through their skin, which allows them to survive outside of water for a short period of time. But if they are left for too long, they can die from lack of water and damage to their gills. To increase their chances of survival, it is important to keep the catfish moist and in a suitable environment.


When it comes to how long catfish can live out of water, temperature plays a crucial role. High temperatures can cause dehydration, heat stress, and metabolic imbalance in catfish out of water. So, how does temperature affect the survival of catfish out of water?

Water temperature affects the metabolism of catfish. If the water temperature is too high, their metabolism will increase, leading to a higher demand for oxygen. When catfish are out of water, their oxygen supply is limited, and high temperatures can cause them to use up their oxygen supply faster, leading to a shorter survival time.

The temperature of the environment in which the catfish is placed after being out of water also affects their survival time. Placing a catfish in a cool, moist environment can help to slow down their metabolism, allowing them to survive for longer.


When a catfish is out of water, humidity plays a vital role in its survival. Low humidity can cause desiccation, gill damage, and osmotic shock in catfish out of water. So, it is essential to keep the catfish moist as much as possible.

One way to keep the catfish moist is to wrap it in a damp towel or cloth. You can also spray water on its skin to keep it moist. However, make sure not to spray too much water, as it can cause the catfish to drown.

It is also important to note that high humidity can cause the catfish to suffocate. So, make sure to maintain a balance between humidity and air circulation.


One of the most important factors that determines how long a catfish can survive out of water is oxygen. Without oxygen, the catfish will suffocate, and its tissues and organs will start to fail.

Some catfish species, such as the flathead catfish, are known to survive on a minimal oxygen supply, even in shallow bowls with little water. These catfish have developed a special air bladder organ that allows them to breathe bubbles from their mouth in low-oxygen conditions.

However, even with this special adaptation, most catfish can only survive out of water for a few hours. Therefore, if you catch a catfish and plan to release it, it’s essential to handle it carefully and return it to the water as quickly as possible to ensure its survival.

Can Catfish Breathe Out of Water?

Some catfish species have adapted to breathing air when they are out of the water. For example, air-breathing catfish have a modified swim bladder that acts as a lung and allows them to gulp air from the surface. Clarias batrachus or walking catfish, have gill chambers that retain moisture and allow this freshwater fish to breathe air when they move on land. Electric catfish have a pair of accessory breathing organs that allow them to breathe air through their mouth or anus. Armored catfish have bony plates that protect their gills from drying out and allow them to breathe air through their skin.

These adaptations allow catfish to survive out of water for a limited time, usually up to 15-18 hours, depending on the conditions. If the air is moist and the temperature is cool, catfish can live for several hours. However, if the conditions are dry and hot, catfish will only survive for a few minutes. Therefore, it’s crucial to handle catfish with care and return them to the water as soon as possible to ensure their survival.

How Long Can Catfish Survive Out of Water

Do Catfish Need Oxygen?

Yes, all catfish need oxygen to survive. However, some catfish species can tolerate low oxygen levels better than others.

For example, the channel catfish has a high tolerance for low oxygen levels and can survive in hypoxic waters by increasing their gill ventilation and blood flow. On the other hand, the flathead catfish has a moderate tolerance for low oxygen levels and can survive in hypoxic waters by reducing their activity and metabolism.

Walking catfish have a low tolerance for low oxygen levels and can survive in hypoxic waters by migrating to more oxygenated waters or breathing air on land. Electric catfish have a very low tolerance for low oxygen levels and can survive in hypoxic waters by breathing air through their accessory organs or moving to more oxygenated waters.

Why Do Catfish Die Out of Water?

Catfish die out of water because they lose their ability to breathe, regulate their body temperature, and maintain their water balance. When they are out of water, they cannot extract oxygen from the air, and their gills dry out, which makes it difficult for them to breathe. As a result, they suffocate and die.

The survival of catfish out of water depends on various factors, such as their size, age, and health. Healthier, larger catfish are more likely to survive longer than smaller, weaker ones. Additionally, the temperature and humidity of the environment also play a crucial role in determining how long catfish can survive out of water.

How to Keep Catfish Alive After Catching Them

Keeping catfish alive after catching them is important for ethical, legal, and culinary reasons. Here are some freshwater fishing tips to help you keep your catch alive and fresh:

Use Appropriate Gear and Techniques

When fishing for catfish, it’s important to use appropriate gear and techniques to minimize harm to the fish and increase their chances of survival if released back into the water.

Consider using circle hooks or barbless hooks, which can reduce hooking damage and make it easier to remove the hook quickly and carefully. This can help minimize stress and injury to the fish, increasing their chances of survival.

When handling the fish, use wet hands or gloves to avoid removing their slime coat, which can protect them from disease and parasites. A landing net or a lip gripper can also be useful for supporting the weight of the fish and avoiding dropping or dragging it.

If you need to remove the hook, use a hook remover or pliers to do so quickly and carefully. This can minimize the amount of time the fish spends out of the water and reduce the risk of injury.

Keep the Fish in a Suitable Container

When you catch a catfish, it is important to keep it in a suitable container. You may use a live well, a cooler, or a bucket to hold the fish in the water. A live well is a container that is built into a boat and is designed to keep fish alive. A cooler or a bucket can be used for fish if you are saltwater fishing from the shore.

To keep the water oxygenated, you can use an aerator, a bubbler, or an oxygen tank. These devices will help provide oxygen to the water to improve water quality and keep the fish alive. If you do not have access to these devices, you can change the water frequently to keep it fresh.

The temperature of the water is also important. Catfish prefer water temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use ice packs, frozen bottles, or chemical additives to lower the temperature of the water. Be careful not to lower the temperature too much, as this can harm the fish.

Release the Fish as Soon as Possible or Keep It on Ice

When you catch a catfish, it’s important to release it back into the water as soon as possible. This ensures that the fish has the best chance of survival. If you plan on keeping the catfish, it’s important to keep it on ice until you’re ready to clean and cook it.

Fish that are bled correctly after catching can be stored on ice without gutting for 24-48 hours without negative effects. After that, the quality starts to deteriorate, and you’re better off freezing them instead.

When you’re ready to clean and cook the catfish, make sure to do so within 24 hours of catching it or freeze it for later use. This ensures that the fish is fresh and safe to eat.

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Susie Suarez is a freelance Senior Copywriter and lover of adventure in all forms. When she isn't writing, she can be found fishing, hiking with her dog, practicing yoga, or cooking her next organic meal with fresh ingredients from her garden.