Paddlefish benefit from coordinated management
Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
When coal beds were still forests and ferns, paddlefish swam about
the inland waters of North America. This ancient fish, big and odd
looking, has survived 350 million years since the Devonian period. Today,
when you look at a map of the fish's range it might remind you of veins on
a leaf. The paddlefish lives in the big rivers from Montana to Louisiana,
all across the Mississippi basin. When you overlay the artificial
political boundaries over the dendritic pattern, you can readily see why
there's a need for coordinated management of a big river behemoth that
wanders far and wide.
And wander they do. Paddlefish tagged at Gavins Point National Fish
Hatchery in Yankton, South Dakota took a trip down the Missouri River, down
the Mississippi, then up the Kaskaskia in Illinois where commercial
fishermen caught it Fish tagged in Texas, have been caught by shrimp
trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana shoreline.
Photo Jan Hoover
That's where the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource
Association (MICRA) comes in. MICRA is an association of 28 state fish and
game agencies, tribes, and federal agencies in the Mississippi basin that
exists solely to promote effective management of natural resource,
including the paddlefish. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, Jerry
Rasmussen is MICRA's coordinator. Rasmussen says a coordinated effort is
absolutely essential to manage a fish like the paddlefish that crosses
Part of that help comes in the form of database management.
Biologists at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Columbia and Carterville
Fisheries Resources Offices located in Missouri and Illinois, keep up the
National Paddlefish Database. It's a central data storehouse of paddlefish
tagging studies from across the Mississippi basin; it launched in 1995.
Photo Jan Hoover
It's the biggest fish tagging project of its kind in an inland water
system. And the results are big, leading to a new understanding about
paddlefish habitat, behavior and movement. Essentially following a fish
from a young age when it's tagged, to an advanced age when it's recaptured
yields trends in growth rates and condition of fish, as well as population
sizes over time. Moreover, the database helps state fish and game agencies
to development informed paddlefish management plans.
Those plans often call for augmenting rivers with hatchery-reared
paddlefish to offset the damage dams have in blocking spawning migrations.
Poaching from the illegal caviar trade has an impact, too. A number of
federal and state hatcheries fill the need.
Ann Runstrom from the USFWS's La Crosse Fishery Resources Office, hefts a paddlefish for measuring; a lamprey hangs on for the ride. Photo USFWS
Paddlefish populations in the upper Missouri River have benefitted
from Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery, working with state fish
biologists from South Dakota and Nebraska. They raise about 25,000,
15-inch long paddlefish each year. In the southern states, Mammoth Spring
National Fish Hatchery in Arkansas, and Private John Allen National Fish
Hatchery in Mississippi rear large numbers of paddlefish that go into the
White River system in Arkansas, and the Tombigbee and Mississippi rivers in
Tennessee. Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma has returned
paddlefish to waters above dams on the Arkansas, Red, and Verdigris rivers,
in some cases where they were absent for half a century. Natchitoches
National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana spawns paddlefish from the Mermentau
River and Bayou Nezpique. Working in concert with the Booker Fowler State
Fish Hatchery, young fish are divvied up, grown out, and planted in
formerly occupied waters in Louisiana.
It can be a long-distance affair for paddlefish, the need to find the
right habitat to spawn. Swimming 200 miles in a month is not unheard of,
and over the course of the fish's 30-year life span, they can cross a
number of times those artificial boundaries that lay over their large
native range. To do an effective job, biologists need the coordinated
management facilitated by MICRA and the National Paddlefish Database.
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a brave and scarce man, hated and scorned. When the cause succeeds, however, the timid join him... for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." -Mark Twain
They use to issue two tags a year up here,now its down to one.My brother loves to snag them.I wouldn,t mind catching one myself,but I won,t fish them,because I don,t eat them( to strong of meat for my taste).....
I love my country-but fear my government!!