Polyodon spathula (Walbaum, 1792)
Paddleﬁsh have skeletons comprised of cartilage, not bone, like sharks. Paddlefish are filter feeders and feed by swimming through open water with their mouths open and allowing their close-set gill rakers to capture their microscopic food. There is only one other species of paddleﬁsh in the world and this is the Chinese paddleﬁsh or Psephurus gladus, which is found in Asia and can grow up to 300cm (9 ft., 10 in.). There have been reports of paddleﬁsh living for 55 years. Ever wonder why consumers of sturgeon caviar would look to paddleﬁsh caviar as a substitute? Well, both sturgeons and paddleﬁsh belong to the same group of ﬁsh called Acipenseriforms. Apparently the eggs of Acipenseriforms must be very tasty.
SIZE: Large specimens have been reported to weigh as much as 199 kg. (438 lbs., 11.5 oz. and reach 221 cm in total length ( 7 ft. 3 in. in length). The eggs of an adult female paddleﬁsh can easily weigh 9.1 kg (20 lbs.) or more.
RANGE: Mississippi River Basin
HABITAT: Paddleﬁsh live in water deeper than 1.3 m (4.3 feet) in large river basins and their tributaries.
DIET: Paddleﬁsh feeds on plankton, microscopic plants and animals.
American paddleﬁsh are a primitive ﬁsh that have inhabited North America since the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. The American Paddleﬁsh inhabits large, slow‐ﬂowing, freshwater rivers such as the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Paddleﬁsh are a long‐lived species.
The American paddlefish is classified as endangered, threatened or as a species of concern in several states within its historical range. Paddleﬁsh were once the most important commercial species in the Mississippi River Valley. Unfortunately, U.S. paddleﬁsh population began to decline shortly after commercial harvest of paddleﬁsh peaked around 1900. Currently, only a few southern states still allow the commercial harvest of paddleﬁsh.
In recent years, U.S. paddleﬁsh resources have experienced an exponential increase in harvest pressure resulting from the collapse of the Beluga sturgeon populations in Eastern Europe. This recent pressure has resulted in the illegal poaching and harvest of paddleﬁsh because of the high prices that can be generated by the selling of their eggs.
As a result, the American paddleﬁsh was aﬀorded international protection by being listed as a species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eﬀorts have played a key role in the conservation, restoration and preservation of this species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish and Wildlife Conservation Oﬃces and the National Fish Hatchery System participate in the monitoring and stocking of paddleﬁsh within U. S. waters.