No Bones about It: Prehistoric Paddlefish
The paddlefish is one very weird and ancient kind of fish. It’s also called a “spoonbill,” which pretty much describes the long snout on its face. Nobody is quite sure what that long body part does for this fish without bones or teeth. Paddlefish feed by filtering for water fleas and other microscopic food.
I’m mentioning it today because the season to legally catch these very big fish (they can grow to more than 100 pounds) in Missouri is March 15-April 30, 2008. Our fisheries biologists provide updates on the snagging season and what’s happening on specific reservoirs. I asked Trish Yasger, one of our fisheries management biologists, if she has done any paddlefish snagging herself. “I’ve gone out with others, but it seems that every time I pass the snagging rod to someone else and take over driving the boat, that’s when the fish appear.”
Due to reservoir construction years ago, the spawning grounds for paddlefish along the Osage River were covered and lost. So we have many paddlefish now in Missouri only because our fish hatcheries figured out several decades ago how to grow the fish from eggs. Trish said the Missouri Conservation Department’s Blind Pony Hatchery grows 30,000 paddlefish each year for stocking reservoirs when the fish are 14 to 16 inches long. It takes about eight years before they reach the 34-inch catchable minimum. At that size, they’re about 25 to 30 pounds.
Trish mentioned that one real threat today are poachers taking the fish illegally to sell their eggs for caviar. Conservation agents continue to keep an eye out for those sorts wildlife thieves.