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'Reservoir ranching' of paddlefish may provide extra income for pond, lake owners

COLUMBIA - One of the planet's oldest fish may present a new opportunity for Missouri pond and lake owners.

Sometimes called the spoonbill, the paddlefish, which predates dinosaurs, is sought for its grayish black eggs for caviar and boneless, firm white meat.

Significant declines in paddlefish stock across the open waters of the Mississippi River drainage may provide extra income for owners of the state's 350,000 private ponds and lakes through 'reservoir ranching,' said Bob Pierce, University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.

A recently released MU Extension Guide, "Paddlefish Production: Opportunities for Missouri Pond and Lake Owners," provides information on how landowners' ponds can be 'rented' with little to no risk or investment.

Owners receive payment when fish are harvested in six to eight years or can receive a credit to keep their ponds stocked with other fish species, said Joe Parcell, MU agricultural economist specializing in value-added enterprises.

"For water owners, what better opportunity to get some value out of your lake or pond," he said.

Paddlefish are fast-growing and commonly reach 5 feet in length and 60 pounds in weight. Some live more than 30 years and reach weights of almost 150 pounds.

Because paddlefish are filter feeders, using gill-rakers to consume minute free-floating animals and aquatic insect larvae as their primary food source, reservoir ranching relies on the presence of natural zooplankton for the fish to grow out, said Pierce.

"If stocked at low density per surface acre, paddlefish should not affect the natural food supply or other fish populations," said Pierce.

Over exploitation and pollution from contaminants have added the species to the Appendix II list of the United Nations Convention or International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This listing prevents the import or export of paddlefish products into or out of the U.S. without a permit.

"This means that the growing demand for paddlefish caviar and other products must be met through commercial production," said Pierce.

Further Reading

- To view the guide, please click here.