Harvest Management Regulation Options for Oklahoma's Grand Lake Stock of Paddlefish

Across its historical range, fisheries for the North American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) have proven sensitive to overexploitation because its roe is a source of expensive caviar. In 2008, the Paddlefish Research Center (PRC) was developed near Miami, Oklahoma, by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) to collect biological data and support other monitoring activities on the Grand Lake O' the Cherokees (Grand Lake) paddlefish stock, the state's largest fishery, as part of a voluntary roe donation program. Several key observations led ODWC to conclude that an evaluation was needed of the adequacy of harvest management regulations for the Grand Lake stock and for Oklahoma paddlefish in general. The Grand Lake stock has declined in abundance from an estimated 200,000 to 68,000 adult fish over a five-year period 2008-2012), is maintained by natural, highly variable, and inconsistent recruitment, and is currently dominated by one cohort. The strong interest by anglers in the fishery, liberal harvest regulations compared to other states, and the increasing media attention paid to the fishery have all played roles in stock decline, necessitating harvest management to maintain sufficient fish in the spawning population to result in future strong year-classes. Under the statewide one-fish daily bag limit, most anglers (82%-84%) harvested two or fewer fish annually, with 60%-62% of anglers harvesting only a single fish. The generalized options for reducing harvest considered included 1) reducing the number of paddlefish anglers, 2) instituting a stock-specific, biologically based annual harvest cap, and 3) reducing individual angler harvest. Five methods of reducing individual angler harvest were considered, but two preferred approaches emerged from existing data and fishing patterns: implementation of a harvest cap (total allowable catch) and an individual annual harvest limit of two fish. Implementation would result in substantial changes in the Oklahoma paddlefish recreational fishery. Results for the Grand Lake stock will serve as a framework for statewide harvest management regulation.

Publication date
Starting page
Ending page