Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission members learned this spring's paddlefish harvest in Oklahoma was lower than it was in 2013, based on data gathered by the Wildlife Department's Paddlefish Research Center near Miami, Okla. But the lower harvest is going to benefit the state's paddlefish resource, which has received some heavy angling pressure in recent years.
Brent Gordon, coordinator of the Department's paddlefish and caviar program, said the PRC processed 2,405 paddlefish from April 1 to May 15, about 45 percent of the usual harvest seen in recent years. Gordon presented his report on the status of Oklahoma's paddlefish fishery at the Commission's June 2 meeting in Oklahoma City.
The drop in numbers wasn't surprising. Gordon cited several factors that played a role in this year's smaller harvest. Foremost among those was a new annual harvest limit on paddlefish: just two per angler for the entire year.
Gordon cited other factors: A colder-than-normal March and drought conditions in April and May caused delays in staging and disturbed the normal spawning runs. "The fish just never staged properly for us this season" at Grand Lake, he said.
Researchers also were able to process some paddlefish from Fort Gibson reservoir this spring to gain some baseline data on that fishery.
Because of the poor conditions, he said this year's paddlefish spawn can likely be written off as nonexistent. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has taken larvae samples twice a week since March, and no paddlefish have been collected. That means the 2014 year class will be missing from the breeding paddlefish population for the next 15 or so years.
The lower harvest also curtailed the number of fish that biologists could study, and it cut caviar production to about half of the 2013 amount. The caviar produced at the PRC is sold on the international market, and revenues are used to fund paddlefish management. Most of Oklahoma's paddlefish caviar is consumed in Europe and Japan.
Paddlefish, also called spoonbills, are among the state's more unusual fish, having a primitive shark-like appearance and a prominent blade extending from the snout. They can live for decades and can grow to more than 120 pounds. They range throughout the U.S. from Montana to Louisiana. In Oklahoma, paddlefish are found mainly in the Grand, Neosho and Arkansas river systems.