Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula, Polyodontidae) are large, mostly-riverine fish that once were abundant in medium- to large-sized river systems throughout much of the central United States. Concern for paddlefish populations has grown from a regional fisheries issue to one of national importance for the United States. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was petitioned to list paddlefish as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The petition was not granted, primarily because of a lack of empirical data on paddlefish population size, age structure, growth, or harvest rates across the present 22-state range. Nonetheless, concern for paddlefish populations prompted the USFWS to recommend that paddlefish be protected through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The addition of paddlefish to Appendix II of CITES, which was approved in March 1992, provides a mechanism to curtail illegal trade in paddlefish and their parts and supports a variety of conservation plans. Paddlefish populations have been negatively affected by overharvest, river modifications, and pollution, but the paddlefish still occupies much of its historic range and most extant populations seem to be stable. Although many facets of paddlefish biology and ecology are well understood, the lack of information on larval and juvenile ecology, mechanisms that determine recruitment, population size and vital rates, interjurisdictional movements, and the effects of anthropogenic activities present significant obstacles for managing paddlefish populations. Questions about the size and structure of local populations, and how such populations are affected by navigation traffic, dams, and pollution are regarded as medium priority areas for future research. The availability of suitable spawning habitat and overall reproductive success in impounded rivers are unknown and represent critical areas for future research. Research on reproductive and recruitment success in impounded rivers have significant implications for managing paddlefish, as rivers are modified further for human use.
Additional publication details
Ecology and biology of paddlefish in North America: historical perspectives, management approaches, and research priorities