Emergency Paddlefish Rules for Oklahoma

By Oklahoma Dept of Wildlife Conservation

First posted on 11-09-2009

Oklahoma is known for having the best paddlefish fishery in the world, and emergency rules approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission will help ensure the fishing in northeast Oklahoma is as good in the future as it is now.

At its November meeting, the Commission approved the following emergency rules for paddlefish angling:

* Paddlefish anglers will be required to immediately release all paddlefish caught on Fridays and Mondays, statewide.

* When an angler keeps a paddlefish, they will be required to immediately record the date and time of harvest of all paddlefish on their paddlefish permit.

* All snagging will be closed on the Grand River from the Hwy 412 bridge upstream to the Markham Ferry (Lake Hudson) dam from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. year-round.

* The Spring River will be designated a paddlefish sanctuary and will be closed to paddlefish angling by all methods from the Hwy 60 bridge upstream to the Kansas state line.

All rules take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

According to Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, these rules were put in place to reduce the harvest of paddlefish after two years of detailed data from the Department’s Paddlefish Research and Processing Center indicated that the fishery was being supported primarily by the fish from the 1999 spawn. Female paddlefish must generally reach eight to 10 years of age before they can reproduce, making the huge fish sensitive to overharvest.

“These measures should reduce our harvest by as much as 30 percent while still providing significant paddlefish angling opportunities, which can go a long way in sustaining the species for anglers to enjoy for generations to come,” Bolton said. “By establishing ‘catch-and-release’ days on Fridays and Mondays, anglers can still enjoy a long weekend of fishing, but they may take home fewer fish than before depending on what days they fish. I am confident this will have a long-lasting positive impact on our paddlefish fisheries and future angling opportunities, while minimally impacting the fishing we enjoy today.”

Prior to establishing the Paddlefish Research and Processing Center at Twin Bridges State Park near northeast Oklahoma’s City of Miami, the Wildlife Department knew very little about the number of anglers fishing for paddlefish each year. The Department also knew very little about the annual harvest numbers of paddlefish, which is one of Oklahoma’s largest fish and dates back to the time of the dinosaurs. As a result, management of the fish proved challenging, and data collection was a difficult and slow process, as fish generally had to be killed by biologists in order for pertinent biological data to be collected.

The Research and Processing Center opened in the spring of 2008 and offers anglers free processing of their paddlefish in exchange for biological data and eggs collected from female fish that were going to be harvested by anglers anyway. The data is used to help make important management decisions, and eggs collected from fish are sold worldwide as caviar. Proceeds from egg sales are then used to fund the paddlefish program in Oklahoma, which includes management and projects to improve paddlefish angling opportunities, such as access to prime fishing waters. Since its inception, the Research and Processing Center has collected information from thousands of fish, far more than biologists could survey without anglers’ help.

The emergency rules come before a slate of town hall meetings and public hearings to be held in 2010, where these rules and others are scheduled for discussion before the Commission considers making the rules permanent.

The Commission also approved an emergency rule that allows licensed aquaculture facilities to possess and grow diploid carp for human consumption, for selling outside the state and for control of vegetation on their farms. Diploids still may not be stocked in private waters of the state. Only non-reproducing triploid carp can be stocked in private waters. The rule is designed to limit reproduction of grass carp in Oklahoma’s waters, which compete with native fish species.

In other business, the Commission heard a presentation from Finley & Cook, PLLC, including the results of the Department’s fiscal year 2009 annual financial audit. The independent audit, which also reviewed federal grant programs, revealed no material findings. A clean audit report was rendered.

The Commission also heard a presentation on the Department’s Lake Record Fish Program, which recognizes big fish caught from select reservoirs and the anglers who catch them. The program was initiated Feb. 1, 2008, and initially included 13 lakes across the state. Since then the program has grown to include 38 lakes. The program is managed electronically, and a unique search feature on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com allows users to search a range of lake record information, including the species of lake records, the names of anglers who caught them and other facts such as what bait and tackle was used to catch record fish from various lakes. Since the program’s inception, the lake records portion of the Web site has seen more than 63,000 hits and more than 350,000 page views, including viewers from 38 states and 17 foreign countries.

The Commission also recognized Loren Damron, game warden supervisor for the Wildlife Department, for 35 years of service; Steve Spade, hatchery supervisor, for 30 years of service; and Dwight Luther, game warden stationed in Creek and Okfuskee counties, for 25 years of service.

Richard Hatcher, director of the Wildlife Department, also recognized Todd Craighead, information and education specialist for the Department, for recently receiving the George Lewis Advocacy Award. This award recognizes an Oklahoma City area resident with a disability who has performed outstanding and notable feats to enhance the empowerment and/or employment of individuals with disabilities by rising above his or her own disability and encouraging others with disabilities to do the same. This individual displays these principles through community involvement and in his or her area of employment. This individual has also promoted overcoming social, attitudinal, and environmental barriers to enhance the lives of all persons with disabilities and shown good citizenship in his or her everyday activities.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma 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. Dec. 7 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.