Evidence of paddlefish reclaiming Minn. River

Field Editor

Granite Falls, Minn. Minnesota DNR fisheries staff recently
captured and released a paddlefish in the Minnesota River near
Granite Falls, the first found in that area in about 50 years. The
4-foot long fish was estimated to be 4 years old.

“We were a little surprised to catch it,” says DNR fisheries
technician Bobbi Chapman of Hutchinson. “It was a real thrill.”

The DNR became more interested in Minnesota River paddlefish
when three dead ones were found this spring, apparently when they
were trapped in a backwater during the winter near Redwood Falls.
Gill net sets were added to a normal fisheries survey to look for
paddlefish, resulting in the capture of the four-footer. Chapman
says the fish was tagged so biologists can identify it if
recaptured.

Paddlefish are native to the Mississippi River system. They are
mostly found in the Mississippi upstream to the barrier at St.
Anthony Falls and in the St. Croix River upstream to Taylors
Falls.

A primitive species in the same order as sturgeon, the paddle
fish eat plankton and must either keep swimming or rest in current
to keep water flowing through its gills. The paddlefish is so named
for the long, paddle-shaped appendage that forms its snout.

In the past, paddlefish were more common. They were numerous in
Lake Pepin, where there was a commercial fishery for them. Seine
hauls often yielded a ton of paddlefish. The species declined due
to overfishing, polluted water, and the construction of dams
through the Mississippi River system.

“Paddlefish and sturgeon are big fish that need large, connected
waterways to thrive,” says Steve Hirsch of DNR Fisheries.

Hirsch, who once worked at the DNR’s Lake City office, says
years ago the agency tried to survey paddlefish in the Mississippi
River using a technique that was effective for capturing them in
downriver states snagging downstream from dams during winter. Iowa
snagging experts ripped through the water below Minnesota dams
without finding any paddlefish.

In the Minnesota River, paddlefish and two sturgeon species are
uncommon. Chapman says lake sturgeon are occasionally caught by
winter anglers below Minnesota Falls. Shovelnose sturgeon are also
found in the river.

Chapman is cautiously optimistic the discovery of paddlefish may
indicate better times ahead for the Minnesota River, because the
species needs relatively clean water to survive. Another uncommon
native that needs clean water, the blue sucker has also been
seen.

“It’s getting tempting to say the river is getting better,”
Chapman says. “Many individuals and organizations are working
throughout the watershed to clean it up.”

The DNR will continue to look for paddlefish and sturgeon in
Minnesota River fisheries surveys. Chapman intends to set gill nets
during a survey next week and again during autumn surveys.

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