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

Where We Are Today in Paddlefish Conservation and Management

Craig P. Paukert and George D. Scholten


In December 1983, a symposium titled “Paddlefish—A Threatened Resource?’ was held at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and the subsequent 1986 published proceedings became the “bible” of paddlefish conservation, management, and propagation. Many of the topics covered in the 1986 book are still relevant today. At the end of the 1983 symposium, the question was asked “Is the paddlefish a threatened resource?” The answer was “Not yet.” However, the symposium and resultant book raised awareness of the threats to paddlefish before the fish was critically imperiled and therefore provided an opportunity to be proactive in paddlefish management.

Twenty-three years after the 1983 symposium and after much research and various management strategies for the species range-wide, questions about the species status still remained. These included, “Is the paddlefish now a threatened resource?”, “Are paddlefish populations in better shape now compared to 20 years ago?,” and, ultimately, “What have we learned in the past 20 years about paddlefish and its management?” In 2006, another paddlefish symposium was held in Omaha, Nebraska to ask these questions. The symposium and this book stemming from the symposium clearly highlighted advances and new knowledge of paddlefish propagation, genetics, reproduction, recruitment, and movements that built on research and information presented at the 1983 symposium. Our knowledge of active paddlefish management of sport fisheries has led to sustainable populations. We are also more aware than ever about the effects of overharvest and commercial fishing on paddlefish and the efforts to create sustainable paddlefish commercial fisheries. We are increasingly aware of management and culture techniques for conservation and management, but also food production, which has expanded to Russia, China, and Ukraine. Genetic considerations are on the forefront of paddlefish stocking and reintroductions, and genetic tools are now available so biologists can make better-informed stocking decisions. Although much of the basic biology of the paddlefish was known prior to 1983, we now better understand the factors that affect movement, growth, recruitment, and spawning.