The paddlefish is a magical, fantastic looking fish. While its boneless body is similar to a sharks, its bizarre appearance is shared by only one living relative in China.
For 400 million years, paddlefish have adapted well to the slow, subtle changes of nature. In recent years, our river systems have been altered at a much faster rate. After all this time, its remarkable that the paddlefish in Missouri could be put at risk by a single act of man.
One of the largest paddlefish populations in the world was right here in the Osage River in Missouri. This population was threatened in the 1960's by the planned construction of Truman Reservoir. We knew that the dam, which you see behind me when it was completed and the reservoir filled would permanently flood all spawning areas for the paddlefish. And because it would have no place to spawn, population numbers would decline and the fish would ultimately disappear. So we decided to do something about it before it was too late. So we developed techniques to spawn and raise young paddlefish in the hatchery, and now we produce and stock paddlefish to maintain population numbers in the Osage River system.
We would prefer that our native fishes maintain populations naturally. But in some instances, as with the case of the paddlefish, that's no longer possible.
Paddlefish can live as long as 25 to 30 years and travel as much as 20 to 30 miles in a day. Despite they're large size reaching weights of 80 to 100 pounds they are not predators. Instead, they feed almost exclusively on micro organisms which are filtered from the hundreds of gallons of water flowing through their mouths every day.
The future looks good for paddlefish in Missouri. In fact, they've been managed so well that there's a special sport snagging season for them each spring. By understanding and anticipating their needs, biologists have helped maintain the paddlefish one of our oldest and most unusual species in the state.