Paddlefish a species of concern

By Craig Ford/WTVA-TV

TUPELO — Ever hear of a paddlefish?

It’s a really big fish that used to be a recreational favorite, but man and modern machinery have taken a toll on their population.

If the situation worsens, it could become endangered.

Work is under way to build the numbers back up and it’s taking place at the Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery in Tupelo.

The hatchery is one of many managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast. It opened in 1901 and was named for former Mississippi Congressman John Allen in 1982.

Fish raised by the federal hatcheries are stocked in public waters. These include fish for restoration where, for example, habitat degradation has altered a stream’s natural reproductive capability, to recover threatened or endangered populations or to preclude listing of certain species under the Endangered Species Act.

Hatchery manager Ricky Campbell said when mature, the paddlefish are large but not the prettiest of fish.

“Most people are surprised. People that catch them on a trot line don’t really know what they’ve got because when you pull them up out of the water, the first thing you’re going to see is a long nose or what we call a rostrum,” Campbell said.

The long nose may not be that attractive, but it’s what’s inside that is especially to those who attempt to get it illegally — fish eggs or caviar.

“The eggs in them are a source of caviar and when the sturgeon got listed as being a protected species, you could no longer harvest the eggs from many of the sturgeon species so, paddle fish kind of moved in and took the place of the sturgeon in caviar production,” Campbell said.

That wasn’t the only problem that led them to be listed as a species of special concern.

Construction projects have led to habitat destruction.

“They lost a lot of their habitat with the dams and the altering of the river system — the Tenn-Tom Waterway,” said hatchery biological technician Corey Gullett said.

Work to build the population back starts at the hatchery.

Campbell said it is important to keep the number up for a species such as the paddlefish because if it becomes endangered, it poses a variety of problems for because it affects the way the habit can be used.

He said it’s important to restore its numbers so, it can once again be a recreational fishing favorite.

Campbell said they have been raising paddlefish at the hatchery for six years.

He said the fish that have been released in the Tennessee-Tombigee Waterway are being monitored and appear to be doing well.

The Tenn-Tom Waterway is a 234-mile manmade shipping channel that connects the Tombigbee and Tennessee rivers. It offers access to inland ports in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.