New Rules Put On Harvesting Paddlefish For Caviar
Posted 09 October 2007 - 01:02 PM
New rules put on harvesting paddlefish for caviar
by les winkeler, the southern
The seldom seen, odd-looking paddlefish could well become quite popular with people with a taste for caviar. As the result, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has issued guidelines regulating the harvest of this prehistoric critter.
Historically, most of the world’s high-grade caviar was harvested from sturgeon in Russia’s Caspian Sea. However, problems with the Caspian Sea fishery has resulted in greater demand for caviar taken from paddlefish.
Rob Maher, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ commercial fishing program manager, said the increased demand hasn’t seemed to put a strain on the paddlefish population. The rules being implemented are to insure that doesn’t happen.
“I would consider that when we started the whole process it was pre-emptive,” Maher said. “It took so long, it’s probably a little past that. It’s addressing a problem that could develop.
“We just look at it as it’s a valuable renewable resource that needs to be managed properly.”
Beginning Monday, commercial fishermen taking paddlefish for caviar must register with IDNR as well as pay licensing fees. Commercial caviar buyers must also be licensed.
Although common in the rivers and lakes of Southern Illinois, many local residents probably wouldn’t recognize the paddlefish. They would, however, probably be startled by its size and strange appearance.
The paddlefish has a large bill, called a rostrum. The rostrum is normally about one-third the length of the fish. They are filter feeders, swimming along with their mouths open, taking zooplankton from the water.
“They’re filter feeders so people who are angling with traditional rod and reel methods aren’t likely to encounter them,” Maher said. “They won’t take a bait. They’re filter feeders.
“There are a group of people who snag for them. The public, as a whole, isn’t that familiar with the fish.”
They are a riverine fish, although they can also thrive in lakes and ponds. They can top 70 pounds in lake environments.
“The fish you see in river systems don’t get that big as a rule,” Maher said. “It’s unusual to see one over 60 to 70 pounds that comes out of the Mississippi River. A 25-to-30-pound average is more realistic.”
They are also relatively long-lived.
“There has been some aging work done,” Maher said. “We’ve seen some up to 25 years old. As they get older they get a little more difficult to age. Twenty-five to 30 years old would be old for a paddlefish in the Mississippi.”
They are also something of a relic.
“They are not completely without bony material,” Maher said. “The skeleton is cartilaginous. They are a primitive fish for sure.”
And, they are attractive for caviar harvest because of the large amount of eggs they produce. The fish has to be killed to harvest the eggs.
“They generally yield, and it varies some, about 17 to 18 percent of their body weight is roe,” Maher said. “They’re a pretty valuable animal.
“It is the closest thing we have to that Russian sturgeon as a species.”
The market for paddlefish caviar is both domestic and foreign.
“The markets that sell this product are particular about how it is handled and processed,” Maher said. “We’re starting to see some people harvest bowfin for caviar.”
Taking paddlefish for caviar is nothing new. However, until recently, harvest for caviar was a rarity.
“There’s been an established caviar market for a long time,” Maher said. “We didn’t require people to report their caviar harvest until the 1990s. It was always viewed as an incidental harvest.”
Posted 09 October 2007 - 06:07 PM
Incidentally, in Texas if catch a paddlefish and you get caught, you'll get a nice fine. The state would prefer that we fishermen left them well enough alone...
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