Help Improve Paddlefishing

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Paddlefish Tagging Project

MDC biologists have been studying these prehistoric fish since at least the 1960s. We need current information to implement the best possible management strategies to maintain this popular fishery. MDC has completed a 5-year paddlefish tagging project to learn more about this species and improve paddlefish management.

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Paddlefish Swimming
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, have long, paddle-shaped rostrums that are about one-third the length of their bodies.
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Paddlefish Tagging Project
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We Need Your Help

When you catch a tagged paddlefish write down the following information:

  1. DATE you caught the fish
  2. WHERE (Reservoir or River, Mile Marker, County) you caught the fish
  3. The TAG NUMBER
  4. The eye-to-fork LENGTH of the fish
  5. Your NAME and ADDRESS

Call the number on the tag to report fish caught with jaw tags or contact Dave Ostendorf at 573-290-5858 or david.ostendorf@mdc.mo.gov.

While supplies last, MDC will send an “I Caught a Missouri Paddlefish” t-shirt or hat to those submitting a tag. Snaggers can keep the silver jaw tags.

Thank you to all the snaggers and commercial fishers that returned tags during our 5-year paddlefish tagging project and continue to report tags.

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Contacts
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Table Rock Lake
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Shane Bush

(417) 895-6880 ext. 2024

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Harry S. Truman Reservoir
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Chris Brooke

(660) 885-6981 ext. 4953

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Lake of the Ozarks
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Samantha Holcomb

(573) 346-2210 ext. 6471

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Reservoirs overall and snagging report
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Trish Yasger

(660) 530-5500 ext. 4824

 

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Black River
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Paul Cieslewicz

(573) 290-5858 ext. 4431

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St. Francis River
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Dave Knuth

(573) 290-5858 ext. 4434 

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Mississippi River
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David Ostendorf

(573) 290-5858 ext. 4482

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Commercial Fishery
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Joe McMullen

(314) 301-1500 ext. 4512

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Paddlefish Project Summary
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MDC has completed a 5-year tagging project to learn more about paddlefish populations and improve paddlefish management. During the project, MDC staff placed metal jaw tags on thousands of paddlefish in Lake of the Ozarks, Harry S. Truman Reservoir, Table Rock Lake, and the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Tag reporting by fishers enables us to estimate exploitation which is the proportion of fish in a population that are being harvested.

Exploitation

(estimate of fish removed by fishing)

River/Reservoir # Tagged # Harvested Average Annual Exploitation Rate
Mississippi River 2,224  92 2.5%
Black River 420 97 26.3%
St. Francis River 178 17 7.7%
Lake of the Ozarks 2,134 470 8.0%
Harry S. Truman Reservoir 2,065 454 8.7%
Table Rock Lake 2,547 456 7.9%
  • Exploitation Rate = (Jaw bands harvested/reporting rate)/Available jaw bands)
  • Average yearly exploitation estimates for each system with the number of fish tagged and number of fish harvested over the course of the study.

Reproductive Success

Young paddlefish are consistently caught in the Mississippi River by MDC researchers every year, indicating natural reproduction is occurring.

In Harry S. Truman Reservoir, we implanted 100 transmitters in reproductively mature paddlefish and tracked their movements. Spring aggregations were located in the riverine portion on the upper Osage Arm, above Taberville Access. A few embryos and larvae were collected indicating that some natural reproduction is occurring. However, it is unclear how successful young paddlefish are at surviving.

Of the fish tagged with transmitters:

  •  16 percent: remained in the lower lake
  • 84 percent: exhibited upstream movement in the Osage Arm, moving above Osceola
  • 66 percent: moved upstream past Taberville
  • 52 percent: moved upstream past Old Town Access
  • Paddlefish began moving back downstream in May and were detected in the lower lake beginning in June
  • The average distance traveled was 197 miles, the longest distance 463 miles
map of truman lake
Spring movement of Paddlefish in Harry S. Truman Reservoir

Size Structure of Paddlefish Populations

Mississippi River

During the five-year study (2015–2019) 2,311 fish were collected from the Mississippi River ranging in size from 6 to 46 inches in length (eye to fork). Paddlefish that ranged in length from 24–41 inches were checked to determine sex and if they had reached sexual maturity. At 32 inches, 41 percent of all females that were checked, were mature (had black eggs, or had spawned at least once and were developing eggs). Protecting the spawning stock is needed to support a self-sustaining paddlefish population on our large rivers.

Black River

Paddlefish have been sampled on the Black River since 1996, but focused tagging efforts started in 2015 and are still on going. Since 2015, 489 paddlefish were collected ranging in size from 24 to 40 inches. The tagging study showed that the Black River paddlefish population had the highest harvest rates in the state. At this rate, the Black River paddlefish population is likely being overharvested. High discharges from Clearwater Lake are common during the snagging season. While high water does reduce success, anglers can still snag in the large pool below the dam at any discharge. The proposed 32-inch minimum length limit would not shut down the Black River fishery. Currently, 58% of the paddlefish in the Black River are longer than 32inches. In the Black River, a 24-inch paddlefish averages 7 pounds, while a 32-inch paddlefish averages 18 pounds. We selected the 32-inch limit because it will allow some female paddlefish (~40%) to spawn prior to reaching harvestable size. 

Chart showing the relationship between weight and length of paddlefish on the Black River
Black River paddlefish length weight relationship.

St. Francis River

Until recently, the St. Francis River paddlefish population was not intensively studied. Since the initiation of sampling (2016–2021), 198 paddlefish have been captured and tagged, ranging in size from 25–48 inches. Size structure is good with fish up to 80 pounds being captured while sampling. High discharges from Wappapello Lake, which commonly occur in the spring can limit snagging success. During high water the fish tend to move out of areas where anglers commonly snag and access is also limited on the lower St. Francis River. The combination of these two factors likely keep exploitation low on this population.

River Paddlefish size structure and the percent of fish protected by the current 24” Minimum Length Limit (MLL) and the proposed 32” MLL for each of the river fisheries sampled.

Protection frequency based of length of paddlefish in Mississippi River
Chart showing length/frequency on paddlefish on the Black River
Chart showing length/frequency of paddlefish in St. Francis River

Reservoir Paddlefish

Paddlefish populations on the reservoirs (Lake of the Ozarks, Harry S. Truman Reservoir and Table Rock Lake) are maintained through annual stockings. The most recent goals for annual stocking are 15,000 paddlefish in both Lake of the Ozarks and Harry S. Truman Reservoir and 7,500 paddlefish in Table Rock Lake with pulse stockings of twice the normal stocking every 3-years.

While our exploitation estimates are not unreasonably high, with increased popularity of snagging and successful migration out of all three reservoirs, stocking rates may need to be re-evaluated. Currently, fish are in good condition with over 20% of the fish harvested by anglers in each reservoir exceeding 50 pounds (40 inches).

Charts showing the lenght/frequecy of Truman Reservoir, Table Rock Lake, and Lake of the Ozarks

Size structure of paddlefish sampled in each of the reservoirs.

Movement Documented by Jaw Band Returns and Telemetry Efforts

River Paddlefish: some paddlefish traveled over 2,000 miles

Mississippi River

Paddlefish tagged near Cape Girardeau, Missouri

  • Swam down the Mississippi River, up the White River, AR, up the Cache River, AR, and was caught/released near Fredonia, Arkansas
  • Swam this distance downstream over a two-month period before being harvested in northern Louisiana
  • Swam up the Mississippi River into the Illinois River up by Starved Rock Lock and Dam in Illinois and one swam back to the Mississippi River and was detected again just below the confluence of the Des Moines River near Keokuk, Iowa
  • Swam up the Mississippi River, into the Missouri River, and was detected at Boonville, Missouri
  • One paddlefish tagged near the mouth of the Ohio River was detected at Mississippi River mile 3 (near the Gulf of Mexico) in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and then detected again back at the mouth of the Ohio River
  • Many others were caught or detected in the Ohio River or tributaries of the Ohio River (i.e., Tennessee and Cumberland River)
Black River

Paddlefish tagged below Clearwater Dam – Angler reported capture locations are:

  • Hendrickson access
  • Lower Black River near Black Rock, Arkansas
  • White River near the mouth of Black River(~254 river miles)
  • Mississippi River at West Memphis (~650 river miles, Black River -> White River ->Mississippi River)
  • Ohio River at Smithland Lock and Dam as well as below Lake Barkley (~860 river miles)
  • Missouri River confluence with the Big Sioux River in Iowa (~1,400 river miles) 
St. Francis River

Paddlefish were tagged below Wappapellow Dam

  • Some swam out to the Mississippi River and then detected near Caruthersville, Cape Girardeau, and St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Others swam out into the Mississippi River and up the Missouri River where they were detected on the Gasconade River as well as the Missouri River mainstem near Herman and Booneville, Missouri.
Map of locations where tagged paddlefish have been caught

Locations of paddlefish tagged on the Mississippi River, St. Francis River, or the Black River. Fish were either caught by fishermen (recreational or commercial) or detected by telemetry receivers.

Reservoir Paddlefish:

Truman Reservoir
  • Paddlefish were caught by anglers on the Marais des Cygnes River below Osawatomie Dam, KS.
  • Paddlefish passed through Truman Dam and were caught in Lake of the Ozarks and passed through Bagnell Dam and were caught in the Osage River.
  • Paddlefish were snagged by anglers below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, SD.
Lake of the Ozark
  • Paddlefish passed through Bagnell Dam and were snagged below Clinton Dam near Lawrence, KS, on the Wakarusa River (tributary to Kansas River).
  • Paddlefish passed through Bagnell Dam; some fish were caught below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, SD, and others were detected on stationary receivers throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River Basin.
Table Rock Lake
  • Paddlefish were snagged below Bull Shoals Power Site Dam in Forsyth, MO.
  • Paddlefish were caught by snaggers in Beaver Lake Tailwater near the Arkansas border.

Not only have jaw banded fish and telemetry fish been detected outside of the reservoirs in surrounding rivers (i.e., Osage, Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, and Kaskaskia, but snaggers also come from all over the United States to snag in Missouri.

Location of license holders who reported banded paddlefish
License holders from 25 different states reported banded paddlefish.