News of the Week

June 4, 2013

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation



   Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission members learned this spring's paddlefish harvest in Oklahoma was lower than it was in 2013, based on data gathered by theWildlife Department's Paddlefish Research Center (PRC) near Miami, Okla. But the lower harvest is going to benefit the state's paddlefish resource, which has received some heavy angling pressure in recent years.

   Brent Gordon, coordinator of the Department's paddlefish and caviar program, said the PRC processed 2,405 paddlefish from April 1 to May 15, about 45 percent of the usual harvest seen in recent years. Gordon presented his report on the status of Oklahoma's paddlefish fishery at the Commission's June 2 meeting in Oklahoma City.

   The drop in numbers wasn't surprising. Gordon cited several factors that played a role in this year's smaller harvest. Foremost among those was a new annual harvest limit on paddlefish: just two per angler for the entire year.

   Gordon cited other factors: A colder-than-normal March and drought conditions in April and May caused delays in staging and disturbed the normal spawning runs. "The fish just never staged properly for us this season" at Grand Lake, he said.

   Researchers also were able to process some paddlefish from Fort Gibson reservoir this spring to gain some baseline data on that fishery.

   Because of the poor conditions, he said this year's paddlefish spawn can likely be written off as nonexistent. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has taken larvae samples twice a week since March, and no paddlefish have been collected. That means the 2014 year class will be missing from the breeding paddlefish population for the next 15 or so years.

   The lower harvest also curtailed the number of fish that biologists could study, and it cut caviar production to about half of the 2013 amount. The caviar produced at the PRC is sold on the international market, and revenues are used to fund paddlefish management. Most of Oklahoma's paddlefish caviar is consumed in Europe and Japan.

   Paddlefish, also called spoonbills, are among the state's more unusual fish, having a primitive shark-like appearance and a prominent blade extending from the snout. They can live for decades and can grow to more than 120 pounds. They range throughout the U.S. from Montana to Louisiana. In Oklahoma, paddlefish are found mainly in the Grand, Neosho and Arkansas river systems.

   The Commission also heard an update on the Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports Program (OKSSSP), the newest addition to the Department's suite of Outdoor Education opportunities for state school students. Coordinator Damon Springer detailed the program's growth since it began with 50 charter schools in August 2013.

   OKSSSP teaches students about shooting and firearms safety. An initial state shooting competition was held in November and attracted 306 students from 20 schools. For the spring state shooting competition in May, 659 students from 44 schools competed.

   The program is made possible in part through the generous donations from Larry and Brenda Potterfield and the MidwayUSA Foundation, Oklahoma Station-Safari Club International and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

   Springer said the OKSSSP plans to add 35 high schools, begin holding regional shooting competitions, and institute a bracket-style tournament format for the state shoot in 2015.


   In other business, the Commission: 

  • Accepted a gift of $503,074 from the estate of Mary Kathryn Stewart, who worked in the Department's License Section for 34 years. Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Department, said this gift is among the largest the Department has received from an estate. Stewart began her Wildlife Department career in 1951, earning $250 per month as a license assistant. She retired as License Section supervisor in 1985. Her sister, Eva, also worked for the Department, and the women lived together very modestly, estate executor Dick Hoar told Commissioners. "These were not high-paid executives. They spent nothing; they invested everything, always in bonds." When Stewart died, her estate was valued at $2.6 million, Hoar said. "They appreciated working in the department and the people they worked with. They appreciated the opportunity to work, given their poor background, and we should all never forget that for ourselves." Hoar said the women wanted theDepartment to use the gift for any use it deemed necessary. In his motion to accept the gift, Commissioner John Groendyke proposed the gift be earmarked for future building renovation and suggested a naming opportunity to honor Stewart.
  • Approved the Department's fiscal year 2015 annual budget proposal of $60,302,860.
  • Accepted a donation of $5,000 from the Central Oklahoma 89er Chapter of Quail Forever. The donation will be used for habitat improvement at Cross Timbers Wildlife Management Area in southern Oklahoma. Matching funds will also allow the Department to buy a seed drill for native grass replacement and a hay rake for field preparation.
  • Agreed to allow current Commission officers to continue serving in those capacities for an additional one-year term.
  • Recognized Jeff Neal, wildlife technician II, for 25 years of service.

   The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of theOklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

   The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 4, at the OklahomaDepartment of Wildlife Conservation headquarters, on the southwest corner of NE 18th Street and Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City.