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

Bettoli, P.W., J.A. Kerns, and G.D. Scholten. 2009. Status of paddlefish in the United States. Pages 23-27 in: C.P. Paukert and G.D. Scholten, editors. Paddlefish management, propagation, and conservation in the 21st century: building from 20 years of research and management. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 66, Bethesda, MD.


The status of paddlefish Polyodon spathula in the United States was first described in two surveys published in 1986 and 1997; in this paper, we report the results of a similar survey of state and federal agency personnel that we conducted in 2006. From the 1970s through the 1990s the status of paddlefish stocks was on a downward trend throughout much of the species’ range. The 2006 survey results suggest that the status of paddlefish stocks has improved since the first survey was conducted; 17 of 26 states in 2006 reported that their paddlefish populations were stable or increasing, compared to only 14 states in 1983 and 1994. The number of states with closed fisheries (i.e., no commercial or sport harvest) increased to 12 in 2006 from 8 in 1983. The number of states reporting declining or stable/declining paddlefish populations dropped from seven states in 1983 to only three states in 2006. The two principal reasons cited for reported declines have remained the same for more than three decades: habitat loss and overfishing. Two states where paddlefish were listed as extirpated (New York and Pennsylvania) have begun restoration efforts that may one day allow the status of paddlefish in those states to be changed. As long as the demand for caviar remains strong, pressure on paddlefish stocks will undoubtedly remain high in the seven states where they are commercially exploited. However, earlier fears of a basin-wide collapse in paddlefish stocks should continue to diminish if resource managers are successful in combating overfishing and continued habitat destruction, which will always threaten the long-term viability of paddlefish stocks throughout the Mississippi River basin.