Since the Paddlefish Research Center (PRC: formally known as the Paddlefish Research and Processing Center, or RPC) officially opened in spring 2008, a significant amount of never before available data have been collected. Biologists continue to collect data via traditional methods, however angler-caught fish information is now being collected, to better evaluate the Grand Lake paddlefish population. Below are three forms of data now being used by ODWC to make paddlefish management decisions.
PRC Fish Data
Since opening in 2008, approximately 22,000 paddlefish have been examined and ODWC has amassed a considerable database on biology, physiology, and demographics of this southern plains stock.
Jaw bones removed from all processed fish revealed that the spawning population of Grand Lake paddlefish for the past five years has been dominated by fish spawned in 1999. the outstanding recruitment resulting from this massive spawn is still not completely understood, but it has provided many years of excellent fishing as a result.
Weather and Netting Data
Weather is a significant factor in the spawning success of paddlefish. During the 1999 spring spawn (Feb. – May), there were 16 days of high flow in the Neosho River.
By combining the known factor that spawning conditions were good in 1999 with the subsequent increases in paddlefish caught during netting, biologist knew that anglers would be experiencing some great snagging when these fish reached sexual maturity. The angler-caught fish brought into the PRC for processing the past five years helps confirm that the spawn of 1999 resulted in a great year class of fish.
Netting data show that the numbers of paddlefish in the Grand River system has increased since the mid 1990’s. Although the population has grown, netting data also indicate that subsequent year classes are not as strong as the class of 1999.
The good flow year of 1999 was followed by several less than optimal years of stream flow (2000–2007). All had nine or fewer days where water levels reached the optimum flow for paddlefish.
Netting data collected at the PRC and weather data are all being used by biologists to make paddlefish management decisions.
Weak year classes subsequent to that of 1999 and data on increasing angler numbers are the key reasons for ODWC making changes to the 2010 paddlefish regulations.
Paddlefish Permit Data
Anglers who snag for paddlefish must obtain a free paddlefish permit. This is vital as well to the overall decision-making process in regards to current and future regulations. Biologists use paddlefish permit data to determine angler use, motives, and satisfaction.
Based on the number of paddlefish permits issued and the results of a postseason angler surveys, ODWC recognizes that tens of thousands of resident and nonresident anglers fish for paddlefish during the spring run. Since 2008, the popularity of this fishery has grown.
Results from the post season angler survey indicate that nearly 65 percent of anglers had their kept paddlefish processed by the PRC. Nearly half of the anglers using the PRC are non-residents, indicating that the fishery is valued as a regional resource, not simply to Oklahomans. Given various choices about their paddlefish experience, anglers indicated that the fun and excitement of paddlefishing combined with the chance of catching a big fish were the most important aspects of their experience.
What the Future Holds
Due to the PRC, biologists know more than they ever have about the paddlefish in the Grand River system. The fishing is great and the fishery has grown in popularity. Netting shows that the paddlefish population is still very good and with proper management anglers can look forward to years of good snagging.
Although conditions were similar to 1999, it is a little early to accurately predict the future in regards to recent flow years such as 2008 and 2009. Over the next few years of netting, biologists will determine if the optimal spawning conditions did in fact produce one or two back-to-back strong year classes similar to 1999.
As an agency, ODWC is responsible for management of this resource. Our goal is to actively monitor and manage the angler pressure on the population to ensure that the resource will be enjoyed by future generations. Recreational anglers can do their part in helping manage and enhance the fishery by 1) knowing the regulations, 2) practicing catch-and-release, 3) not targeting spawning females, 4) reporting banded paddlefish, and 5) using the services of the PRC for kept fish.