Recovery of DNA barcode sequences is often challenging from the archived specimens. However, short fragments of DNA may be recovered, which would significantly improve many unresolved taxonomic conflicts. Here, we designed a mini-barcode for catfishes comprising several species and many cryptic taxa. We analysed a data set of 3048 publicly available COI barcode sequences representing 547 worldwide catfish species and performed 152 628 interspecies comparisons. A significantly more positively correlated interspecies distance was detected with transversion (0.78, P < 0.001) than with transition (0.70, P < 0.001). This suggested that transversions were better diagnostics for species identification. In the aligned data set, two transversion-rich fragments (53 bp and 119 bp) were identified. Transition/transversion bias value was 1.04 in 53-bp fragment, 1.23 in 119-bp fragment and 1.50 in full-length barcode. The interspecies distance with full-length barcode was 0.212 ± 0.037, while that with 53-bp and 119-bp fragments was 0.325 ± 0.039 and 0.218 ± 0.045, respectively. Survey of 53-bp fragment showed a possibility of only 1144 barcodes, while that of 119-bp fragment showed >4 million barcodes. Thus, the 119-bp fragment is a viable mini-barcode for catfishes comprising >3000 extant species. Experiment with 82 archived catfishes showed successful recovery of this mini-barcode using the designed primer. The mini-barcode sequences showed species-specific similarity in the range of 98-100% with the global database. Therefore, survey of a transversion-rich fragment within the full-length barcode would be an ideal approach of mini-barcode design for biodiversity assessment.