Harvest of Paddlefish in North America
Jeffrey W. Quinn
Abstract.—Paddlefish Polyodon spathula have been intensively harvested in both sport and commercial fisheries. Recent harvests (2000–2006) were surveyed from state agencies and compared to historical harvests (1965– 1975). Seven major sport fisheries had recent annual harvests greater than 1,000 fish, and most large sport fisheries appeared to have sustainable harvests due to intensive management. Recent commercial harvest was greater than sport harvest across the species’ range. Most of the commercial harvest was from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Annual commercial harvest from the Ohio River increased from 6,000 to 196,000 kg from 1965–1975 to 2000–2006. Annual harvest remained substantial from the Arkansas River (37,000 kg), the lower Tennessee River (121,000 kg), and the Mississippi River (103,000 kg). Harvests of paddlefish (sport and commercial) compiled from the literature were highly variable and ranged between 0.01 and 5.06 fish/ ha and 0.04–43.43 kg/ha (median = 0.12 fish/ha, 1.73 kg/ha). Stock depression has been associated with a first-year harvest as low as 1.46 kg/ha, and harvests greater than 5 kg/ha were usually associated with overfishing or opening a previously closed fishery. Case histories from the Tennessee and Ohio River systems documented that paddlefish were susceptible to overharvest in lentic waters and river reservoirs, but the threat posed by commercial harvest from large rivers will remain unresolved until more fisheries-independent data becomes available. Anthropogenic alterations to habitat, overreliance on harvest data, and lack of fisheries-independent data limit our historical understanding of the degree of threat that harvest is to paddlefish populations.