Southern Agenda

Primordial Wonders

Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill catfish, are relics swimming in our waters—more than a hundred million years ago, they coexisted with dinosaurs. Native to the Mississippi River basin, the threatened boneless fish with its impossibly long, paddle-shaped snout (called a rostrum) roams from New York to the Gulf of Mexico eating zooplankton. For a long-term study of its populations, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks tagged paddlefish eight years ago at Moon Lake in northwestern Mississippi, and the long-lived individuals continue to pop up. “We had one that traveled two thousand miles all the way to South Dakota, and that was upstream,” says Dennis Riecke, the department’s fisheries coordinator. In the springtime, paddlefish, like their relative the sturgeon, are under threat as people harvest them for their caviar, but come summer, the adults head back downstream, and their tiny fry hatch by the thousands; fifty baby paddlefish weighed together equal a single gram. Lucky survivors grow an inch per week, and years later can stretch to seven feet long and weigh nearly two hundred pounds.;