JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is considering changes to the Wildlife Code of Missouri that would require a new yearly, low-cost paddlefish permit for sport snaggers. The changes would also implement a Telecheck reporting system, such as is used for deer and turkey, for harvested paddlefish.
According to MDC, these permit changes will provide the Department with more and better information to improve its statewide paddlefish management efforts. Information would include where fishing and harvest occur throughout the state, the number of people who fish for paddlefish, and the numbers and sizes of paddlefish harvested.
Paddlefish snaggers are currently required to have a general fishing permit.
Paddlefish snaggers and others are invited to learn more about the potential permit changes and share their opinions at one of the following MDC public open-house forums:
For more information on the open houses, contact MDC Public Involvement Coordinator Michele Baumer at 573-522-4115, ext. 3350, or Michele.Baumer@mdc.mo.gov.
Paddlefish snaggers can also share comments about the potential permit changes online at mdc.mo.gov/node/17769.
According to MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger, paddlefish are highly valued by both sport and commercial fishers, and MDC’s paddlefish stocking and management help make Missouri a great place to fish.
“Missouri is a great place to snag for paddlefish,” Yasger says, “and Lake of the Ozarks, Harry S. Truman Reservoir and Table Rock Lake offer some of the best paddlefish snagging in the country. Without MDC stocking these fisheries, and our other paddlefish management practices, paddlefish numbers would sharply decline in Missouri, reducing harvest opportunities for both sport snaggers and commercial fishermen.”
She explains that no natural reproduction of paddlefish has been observed in these lakes so MDC maintains paddlefish numbers with annual stockings of fingerlings from its Blind Pony Hatchery near Sweet Springs in Saline County.
“We collect about a dozen paddlefish broodstock from the reservoirs each spring and take them to our Blind Pony Hatchery, where eggs are collected and fertilized,” she says. “The fry are raised at the hatchery until October. We then stock almost 40,000, 10-to-12-inch fingerlings, with about 15,000 in Lake of the Ozarks, 15,000 in Truman Reservoir and about 7,500 in Table Rock Lake.”
She adds that MDC biologists have been studying these prehistoric fish since at least the 1960s, and they still have much to learn.
“Angler surveys and other research and monitoring efforts have helped staff assess reservoir populations, but these efforts have not provided the information we really need to best manage paddlefish,” she says. “We really need to know where fishing and harvest occur throughout the state, the number of people who fish for paddlefish, and the numbers and sizes of paddlefish harvested.”
Abundant, naturally reproducing paddlefish populations were historically found in Missouri’s two big rivers, the Missouri and Mississippi, and their larger tributaries. Paddlefish populations have declined over the last 100-plus years, primarily because of habitat alterations.
“The construction and operation of dams have impacted paddlefish populations across their range,” Yasger says. “One of the biggest impacts to Missouri’s paddlefish populations was the construction of Truman Dam, which blocked spawning migrations out of Lake of the Ozarks and flooded historical spawning areas upstream around Osceola on the Osage River.”
She adds that illegal harvest of paddlefish for their caviar and meat has also caused declines in their numbers.
“Paddlefish numbers may also be threatened by growing numbers of invasive Asian carp and zebra mussels, primarily related to competition for food such as plankton.”
The paddlefish is one of only two living species from an ancient family of freshwater fishes. Paddlefish can live more than 30 years, grow to 7 feet in length and reach 160 pounds. The Missouri state record is 139 pounds and 4 ounces caught at Table Rock Lake in March 2002. Paddlefish reach sexual maturity in reservoirs at 5 to 6 years for males and 7 to 8 years for females. Growth is slower in rivers. Spring spawning runs are dependent upon weather conditions, such as amount of daylight, water temperature and water flow.