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Paddlefish ranching could provide new income source

by the Fish Site Editor
02 May 2006, at 1:00am

MISSOURI - Cattle, sheep and goats may soon have another grazing animal join them on the farm. Overcrowding the pasture wont be an issue. Thats because, unlike other livestock, these new animals do their grazing in a pond, not a pasture.

Paddlefish ranching could provide new income source for pond owners - MISSOURI - Cattle, sheep and goats may soon have another grazing animal join them on the farm. Overcrowding the pasture wont be an issue. Thats because, unlike other livestock, these new animals do their grazing in a pond, not a pasture.

In the summer of 2005, University of Missouri researchers launched a preliminary three-month study to assess the feasibility of paddlefish "ranching" for the states pond owners.

"Missouri ranks second behind Texas in the number of private impoundments (ponds)", said Bob Pierce, MU Extension fish and wildlife specialist. "For many pond owners, paddlefish could create a profit base from a resource currently not in use on their farms." Pierce, MU fisheries professor Rob Hayward and agricultural economist Joe Parcell are examining the ecology and economics of placing the prehistoric-looking big river fish in ponds.

From left, Bob Pierce, MU Extension fish and wildlife specialist; Jim Kahrs, owner of Osage Catfisheries; and Rob Hayward, MU fisheries professor; with some of the 90 paddlefish Kahrs donated for a study of the impact of stocking the species in farm ponds.
The idea is not a new one. Jim Kahrs, owner of Osage Catfisheries Inc., has raised paddlefish for 30 years. He has contracted with Missouri pond owners to grow the fish. Currently, the Osage Beach, MO hatchery is the only U.S. company with an international permit to sell paddlefish flesh, caviar and live eggs. Kahrs donated about 90, 15-month-old paddlefish for the MU pilot study. The forearm-length fish were stocked in two university research farm ponds in early July.

"Wed like to validate some of the things we think we have proven through our operation, Kahrs said. I think Missouri has the opportunity to become the paddlefish capital of the world."

Paddlefish, which commonly exceed five feet in length and 60 pounds in weight, primarily feed on microscopic aquatic animals called zooplankton, Hayward said. "We want to see what, if any, effect these fish have on the composition and density of zooplankton in a pond. This is especially important because zooplankton are the key food source for other larval fishes, he said. "There are some concerns that stocking paddlefish in a pond can negatively impact the populations of sportfish such as bass, bluegill and crappie."

MU fisheries and wildlife undergraduate researchers Rebecca Wright of St. Louis and Tiffanie Hamilton of Des Moines, Iowa, have collected pre- and post-stocking water samples from the MU farm ponds and a separate control pond. The samples will allow the researchers to determine changes to the zooplankton communities.

"Eventually, wed like to develop a model for paddlefish stocking, Pierce said. "Even if we find that there are impacts to the zooplankton community, those impacts may not be perceived as negative for landowners not interested in rearing sportfish."

The researchers currently are in the process of submitting proposals for additional funding to investigate opportunities for paddlefish production in Missouri ponds. Hayward said that paddlefish are rapid growers, able to put on a pound or two per year, and even more as they age. The fish also grow faster in ponds and other reservoirs because zooplankton densities are higher than in native river habitats.

A primitive species, the fishs skeleton is made entirely of cartilage, much like that of a shark. Only two paddlefish species exist worldwide - one in the Yangtze Valley in China and one in North America. The fish is native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Osage River basins in Missouri.

(The sources for this article are: Rob Hayward, Associate Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife (573) 882-2353; Bob Pierce, MU Extension Assistant Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife (573) 882-4337; and Jim Kahrs, Osage Catfisheries Inc. (573) 348-2305.)

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