Characteristics of Commercial Paddlefish Harvest from a Provisional Fishery in the Alabama River, Alabama

Due to overharvest of paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) throughout Alabama, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (ADWFF) approved a moratorium prohibiting the recreational and commercial catch, possession, and harvest of paddlefish beginning November 1988. However, due to increased demand for paddlefish eggs, a provisional fishery for commercial paddlefish harvest was approved beginning March 2013 in the Alabama River, Mobile River Basin, Alabama. As part of this provisional fishery, a new reporting form was required of all commercial paddlefish harvesters to record their daily harvest and effort. We summarized and quantified commercial paddlefish harvest and harvester data from these reports to examine spatial and temporal harvest patterns from 2013 to 2017 and compare to data collected by ADWFF biologists in 2016. A total of 4861 female paddlefish were harvested in all commercial years combined. The number of paddlefish harvested yearly increased from 191 in 2013 to 1457 in 2017 due to increased fishing effort commensurate with demand and price of eggs. Based on standardized effort from gill nets across a range of commercial configurations, median CPUEs increased from 2013 (0.7 fish net-day–1) to 2017 (5.7 fish net-day–1) with an overall median CPUE of 2.0 fish net-day–1. Overall median harvested female curved eye-to-fork length was 927 mm with a median weight of 10.9 kg. Total and screened egg weights from all 5 years combined were 10,867 and 9021 kg, respectively. On average, a harvested female paddlefish yielded 2.3 and 1.9 kg of total egg and screened egg weights, respectively. Overall harvester effort (i.e., number of gill nets, fishing hours available, gill netting, and catch-per-unit-effort) increased annu- ally, resulting in greater numbers of paddlefish harvested. However, harvesters never used the maximum amount of potential effort available to them. Although the fishery was suspended indefinitely in 2018 due to numerous violations, these data provide important insights into commercial paddlefish harvester and harvest characteristics for future management options if a commercial paddlefish fishery reopens in Alabama.

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