The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released close to 50 paddlefish Wednesday into Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border and the river that forms it, Big Cypress Bayou.
The release is an experiment that will give researchers data to consider a large-scale stocking in the future.
Paddlefish can live up to 30 years, according to a media release, and grow up to 7 feet long and weigh 200 pounds. They are among the oldest surviving fish species in North America, but are currently listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act and are rarely found in Texas. They were once found in Caddo Lake, but researchers believe their numbers began a steep decline after an upstream dam was built in 1959.
“The dam changed the natural flow patterns, including the high flows or ‘spring pulses’ that provided paddlefish and other fish species a cue to move to spawning sites and foraging habitat the high water made accessible,” said Pete Diaz, a USFWS fish biologist.
Since 2004, government and conservation groups have worked to change those flow patterns to allow for fish and wildlife habitat in and above Caddo Lake.
Robert Speight with the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District said the experimental release of the paddlefish will help determine if the altered flows provide the intended benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. “These paddlefish go back to prehistoric times, and seeing them return is wonderful. But the lessons we learn here will be beneficial to many other species as well,” he said.
The paddlefish released Wednesday are 18 months old and 2-3 feet in length, and have a surgically-implanted radio transmitter that will allow scientists to track the movement of individual fish. General information about the movements of the fish will be available at this link.
The final report of the experimental release is scheduled for completion in April 2015.