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

Population Characteristics of Paddlefish in Two Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Habitats

Daniel M. O’Keefe and Donald C. Jackson

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874127.ch6

Abstract.—Paddlefish Polyodon spathula vanished from areas of the upper Tombigbee River basin in Mississippi and Alabama during the 1950s, long before channelization and damming associated with construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW) were completed in 1984. This study was undertaken to assess distribution and population dynamics of any remaining stock. Paddlefish were not captured in upstream impoundments, but an unexploited remnant population was located in the downstream impoundment: Demopolis Lake, Alabama. Paddlefish in Demopolis Lake were characterized by a population density of 2.6 fish/ha, high growth rate relative to more northern populations, and natural annual mortality rate (A = 0.406) similar to other southern populations. Two wintering habitats (cutoff bendways) were heavily utilized by paddlefish. Large males primarily inhabited the more lotic bendway while females and small males were more common in the more lentic bendway, indicating differential importance of habitats among demographic groups. The restricted distribution of TTW paddlefish and demographic differences between habitats suggest that areas heavily utilized by paddlefish should be protected from further degradation. Sedimentation has resulted in reductions of bendway depth and reduced connectivity of backwaters, reducing availability of suitable paddlefish habitat. Restoring connectivity of bendways through dredging could reverse this trend and provide other benefits to fisheries.