Paddlefish Management, Propagation, and Conservation in the 21st Century

Mortality and Movements of Paddlefish Released as Bycatch in a Commercial Fishery in Kentucky Lake, Tennessee

Janice A. Kerns, Phillip W. Bettoli, and George D. Scholten


Abstract.—We present information on delayed mortality of commercially exploited paddlefish Polyodon spathula released as bycatch in Kentucky Lake, Tennessee–Kentucky, an impoundment on the lower Tennessee River. Minimum size limits enacted in 2002 (864 mm eye-to-fork length [EFL]) and 2005 (914 mm EFL) sought to protect paddlefish from overfishing. In 2005, bycatch of sublegal paddlefish represented 75% of the total catch, and releasing undersized fish will not reduce fishing mortality unless those fish survive. Paddlefish caught and released by commercial fishers in 2005 and 2006 were externally tagged with radio transmitters and tracked a minimum of 2 weeks to estimate delayed mortality. Four of the 104 tagged paddlefish died following release, 94 survived, and 6 were censored because their fate could not be determined. Paddlefish that survived moved rapidly from release locations. Net movements of the 94 fish that survived averaged 12.0 km (SE = 5.3) upriver and ranged from 91.5 km downriver to 390.0 km upriver. Fish that died could not be distinguished from fish that lived on the basis of mean water temperature, fish length, net-soak time, or handling time. Given the low delayed mortality of discarded paddlefish, imposing minimum size limits is a reasonable approach to reduce fishing mortality of juveniles and reduce the likelihood of overfishing. Efforts to reduce fishing mortality should focus on avoiding fishing gear and seasons (e.g., early fall and late spring) that cause high initial bycatch mortality.