The paddlefish season starts this weekend. Anglers will be lining the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in the Williston area hoping to land one of the largest freshwater fish species in North America. Paddlefish do not bite on bait, so the anglers will be pitching large treble hooks into the water in an attempt to snag one of these monsters. No doubt some of the anglers will be hoping to break the state record of 132 pounds, set by a sixteen year old last year.
Historically paddlefish ranged throughout the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Today the species is endangered or threatened over much of its former range due to overharvesting and loss of habitat, much of which resulted from damming and channelization of the rivers.
Paddlefish are a primitive species, and are close relatives of sturgeon and sharks. They are a strange looking fish. Their large paddle or snout makes the fish look as though it has an oar or paddle protruding out its front end. Once thought to function in digging up food from the river bottom, the paddle is now thought to serve a sensory function. At any rate, paddlefish are filter feeders, swimming through the water with their mouths wide open filtering out algae and zooplankton.
Although some people find the meat tasty, it is the paddlefish eggs that are a highly sought delicacy. The Game and Fish Departments angling guide states that “the sale, barter, trade or purchase of paddlefish eggs is legal for one qualified and properly permitted paddlefish caviar operation.”
That operation is North Star Caviar out of Williston. Licensed under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and in agreement with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, North Star Caviar will clean the paddlefish in exchange for the roe. North Star Caviar is a unique non-profit organization. Formed in 1993 by the Williston Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of Fort Union/Fort Buford, the proceeds from the caviar sales are split between the Game and Fish Department for research and management and area non-profit organizations. As you might expect, this caviar is a bit spendy. The last time I checked on the price a 2 ounce jar sold for $50 plus shipping.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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