Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Montana Fishery
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Montana Fishery Project

Preliminary analysis of paddlefish data from the Missouri River above Ft. Peck Reservoir with a focus on population abundance and survival

June 2018 - June 2019


Participating Agencies

  • Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

The paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) fisheries in Montana are important recreational fisheries that are highly valued by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and anglers within and outside Montana. Given the life-history characteristics of paddlefish such as long-lived and late maturing, managing the species for sustainable harvest requires precise and accurate information about their population dynamics because they are particularly susceptible to overharvest (Boreman 1997). Population vital-rate data are essential to developing harvest models and in turn those models are used by fisheries biologists to establish harvest regulations that ensure sustainable harvest. Without the understanding from model outputs, fisheries biologists could be allowing the population to be over-harvested or under-harvested (i.e., denying angling opportunities). Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has been sampling the paddlefish population above Ft. Peck Reservoir since the early 1970s (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks 2017). In 1993, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks established a standardized monitoring program to evaluate population size, harvest rates, spawning periodicity, movement, and spawning locations (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks 2017). These data have been used to better understand the paddlefish population, but fisheries biologists have recently deliberated additional methods (particularly quantitative analysis methods) that could better inform the decision-making process for establishing harvest regulations. Currently, the focus is on providing more robust estimates of abundance using capture-history information. These data could also be used to estimate survival rates that would inform a suite of population models, which could then be used in harvest models to assist in supporting management decisions. The goal of this project is to determine if the current paddlefish database contains the appropriate data structure to estimate abundance and survival using more robust methods that incorporate capture-history information. In addition, we will determine if the current data structure provides key vital rates to develop common fisheries harvest models.