Paddlefish: Ecological, Aquacultural, and Regulatory Challenges of Managing a Global Resource

Chapter 12: Paddlefish Recreational Fisheries: State Management of a Migratory Fish with a Complex Identity

Gerald Mestl, Ryan N. Hupfeld, Dennis L. Scarnecchia, Jason Sorensen, and Adam R. Geik


Abstract.—The Paddlefish Polyodon spathula has been identified and characterized disparately by commercial harvesters, anglers, managers, and the public, from a rough fish, to a food fish, to a trophy sport fish, to one of North America’s most economically valuable and evolutionarily irreplaceable fish species. It is most commonly harvested with recreational fishing methods often used only for low-valued species, including snagging (the most common method) and archery since adults are primarily filter feeders and thus not susceptible to more traditional angling methods used for sport or game fishes. The prevalence of recreational snagging throughout the Mississippi and Missouri basins increased greatly over the period 1950–1975, associated with impoundment of upper Mississippi and Missouri mainstem and tributary reaches. More Paddlefish became accessible to snaggers below dams as spawning and feeding migrations were impeded and fish aggregated in tailwaters. The variability of legal and administrative classifications of Paddlefish and differing perceptions of the species by harvesters, managers, and the public have resulted in a fish with a complex identity. While Paddlefish in the past have been petitioned for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, to date they have not been listed. Recreational fisheries management strategies, goals, and objectives have varied widely, perhaps understandably, since the species is managed at the state level. To assess the current situation, we administered an electronic survey to state Paddlefish managers from each of the 25 current and former range states, requesting information on Paddlefish status, regulations, perceptions, and management strategies. The legal and administrative classification of Paddlefish by each state remains the primary factor in how they are managed, and we identified several regional management strategies. Paddlefish regulations continue to evolve based on new research findings and stock assessments. The most impactful regulatory changes have been the development of limited entry Paddlefish fisheries requiring the purchase of a special Paddlefish permit and three instances where recreational fisheries and stock assessments are supported in part by voluntary roe-donation programs. Management of Paddlefish across the Mississippi Basin at biologically relevant or regional scales remains the most rational and desirable long-term goal.