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Paddlefish

Paddlefish are a species older than dinosaurs. They live in the Missouri and lower Yellowstone River’s roiling waters, feeding on microscopic zooplankton and filtering water through their gill rakers. Their long, paddle-shaped snouts seem to act as a dousing rod for finding food. Every spring the fish swim upstream from Fort Peck Reservoir and from Garrison Dam in North Dakota in search of gravelbeds for spawning.

Paddle Fish - Joe Gutkoski, Missouri River
April 10, 1988, Joe Gutkoski caught a 56 lb. male Paddlefish below Peggy's Bottom on Missouri River above Fort Peck Reservoir.

The only places on earth they survive are in the Yangtze River in China and in the Missouri/Mississippi River systems in the U.S.A. Paddlefish evolved in river systems with high spring flows and gravelbars. The Montana State record is 142.5 pounds. Many Montanans and new emigrants don’t even realize that such a great fish exists this far from the ocean.

Dams with their regulated flows block fish passage and are responsible for reduced numbers of fish. In the Yellowstone River, 8 miles below Glendive, the intake irrigation diversion dam stops all species of fish from migrating upstream and thousands of paddlefish are stuck making it a hot fish snagging spot. Through the years, many fishermen did not want or did not know how to convert paddlefish eggs into caviar. Much of the egg crop was wasted and thrown back into the river. Then, in 1990, the community of Glendive set up a fish egg recovery program where caviar is made from fish eggs and commercially sold for $150 per pound. The profits go to the Glendive community and the waste of good fish eggs has been remedied. The catch is controlled by MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MTFW&P) through issuing of paddle fish tags, limiting it to 1500 fish per year. The downside of this commercialization is the threat of over-fishing and poaching. MTFW&P admits that they cannot regulate illegal fishing. If everyone found out what caviar is worth the potential for destroying the paddlefish is real. ~

See related MRA web pages:

Pallid Sturgeon Of The Missouri
The Missouri River

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