Paddlefish season brings new research projects

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WARSAW - Missouri's annual spring paddlefish season is in full cast as it pushed off early Sunday morning.

This year the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is starting a 5-year program to track how many spoonbills are harvested each year. The team in charge of gathering the data to track these fish set out nets in each reservoir to collect data. Once a paddlefish is caught in the net the team weighs, measures, and implants a band with a special number and phone number to be called in to the team.

Missouri Department of Conservation Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasber said roughly 16,000 people will try to snag one of these large fish. Paddlefish, or spoonbill, can weigh up to 160 pounds and are recognized by their distinct nose, or bill.

The MDC is in charge of stocking Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the Lake of the Ozarks with paddlefish for fishers to harvest. The MDC stocks 38,000 spoonbill each year in order for the fishing season to continue. Dams built around these reservoirs hinder spawning which is why the MDC helps to keep them stocked.

Yasber said relying on snaggers is essential to the research.

"We depend on the snaggers to let us know when they catch a tagged fish so we know how many are coming out and based on that information we can adjust our stocking rates if necessary," he said.

The team will then keep track of which fish has been caught as well as scanning all fish that have been snagged to see if they have been tagged. The tags allow the MDC to know if the paddlefish are beginning to spawn on their own and if so in what areas. These numbers will also allow the MDC to know how many more fish they should implant for the following year. 

Fishers are allowed to snag two spoonbill per day if they are more than than 34" long. If a tagged spoonbill is snagged, people are encouraged to call the MDC at 573-579-6825. People who call that number will also receive a free t-shirt and be put into a $500 raffle.