Montana's paddlefish season on the Yellowstone River and on the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam will close 12 days earlier than scheduled due to an unusually high harvest rate that FWP officials say will soon meet the state's harvest quota of 1,500 fish.
Faced with the prospect of an over harvest of paddlefish, a species of special concern in Montana, the Montana FWP Commission decided in a conference call today to close the season at 10 p.m. on Friday, June 18. The closure will be in effect only on the Yellowstone River and on the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam. The paddlefish season upstream of Fort Peck Dam will remain open.
The commission also voted to allow catch-and-release fishing for paddlefish through June 30 on the Yellowstone River and on the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam to provide alternative fishing opportunity for paddlefish anglers. An unvalidated paddlefish tag is required for catch-and-release fishing for paddlefish.
The paddlefish, named for its elongated paddle-shaped snout, may be the oldest big game animal surviving in North America. Today they live in only two parts of the world--the Mississippi River drainage of North America and Yangtze River drainage in China. Fossil remains reveal that paddlefish have lived in this region for millions of years.
Montana's paddlefish are managed under an agreement with North Dakota. Each state adopted regulations for an annual harvest of not more than 1,500 fish. Only paddlefish in the Yellowstone River and on the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam are counted in the agreement.
As of Wednesday, 960 paddlefish were harvested from the Yellowstone River at Intake Diversion Dam, 17 miles northeast of Glendive. "We know that 80 percent of our statewide paddlefish harvest occurs at our Intake fishing access site," said Larry Peterman, FWP Fisheries Division administrator.
The state's paddlefish regulations allow the commission to close the season within 48 hour notice if it appears that the state's harvest target will be exceeded. The commission set the closure for June 18 to give anglers sufficient warning of the early end to the paddlefish harvest season.
In Montana, paddlefish are found in the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers during April, May and June where they come to spawn on gravel bars during the spring's high water flows. During late May and early June, sexually mature males and females migrate up the Yellowstone River from Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota to spawn. Best fishing is typically late in May and in June, particularly when the river is rising. Males are the first to run, followed by larger females. This year, the water has remained high and cool in Montana, which has kept fish coming to their preferred spawning grounds for several weeks.
Paddlefish were added to Montana's list of game fish in 1963. They are a considered by biologists to be a classic example of an animal that successfully has adapted to its environment over millions of years of ecological change. Many paddlefish can live to be 40 or more years old and reach lengths of up to 6 feet. The Montana 142.5-pound state-record paddlefish was caught in 1973 on the Missouri River.
The season limit for paddlefish is two, but only one from the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers downstream of Fort Peck Dam. A paddlefish tag can be purchased at any regional FWP at cost of $2.50 for residents and $7.50 for nonresident. In addition to paddlefish tags, an angler must have a conservation license and regular fishing license.
It is unlawful to release paddlefish unless accomplished in accordance with specific catch-and-release regulations, and anglers must possess a current year paddlefish tag.
At Glendive, the Chamber of Commerce offers free fish cleaning in exchange for paddlefish roe donation. Forty percent of the profit from the sale of this roe goes to FWP for paddlefish research and for development of the Intake Fishing Access Site.