Fisheries award of excellence presented.
The efforts of fisheries biologists are key to the success of most Oklahoma fish and wildlife populations. In the case of the paddlefish, fisheries professionals have worked diligently over the last several years to collect extensive data that is making Oklahoma a leader in paddlefish management.
One such professional who has partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation since 2002 was recently honored for a career of excellence in fisheries management.
Dr. Dennis Scarnecchia was awarded the American Fisheries Society's Fisheries Management Section Award of excellence. Dr. Scarnecchia, Ph.D and professor in the College of Natural Resources Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences at the University of Idaho, has been an important consultant for the Wildlife Department's paddlefish program, collaborating with Department officials on research studies and providing intensive consultation.
Since 2008, the Department has contracted with Dr. Scarnecchia for the aging and growth charting of paddlefish sampled at the successful Paddlefish Research Center based out of Miami about four miles north of Twin Bridges State Park.
The Center has been collecting biological data on angler-caught paddlefish since 2008, and Dr. Scarnecchia has aged over 25,000 fish for the agency. The information helps biologists manage this unique population of fish known for their large size and flattened, elongated "spoonbill" snouts. Scarnecchia also consulted with Department officials responsible for developing a Paddlefish Research Center business plan, which includes processing paddlefish meat for anglers in exchange for biological data and eggs from harvested female fish. The eggs are processed into caviar by the Department, and then sold to buyers on the world market. Funds raised from the program are then put back into paddlefish management and related projects, such as angler access.
Scarnecchia's work with the Paddlefish Research Center has helped biologists learn critical details about paddlefish populations in Oklahoma, including age data that helped the Department know it needed to change certain laws to limit the overall annual paddlefish harvest. He also was the primary author of the Department's "Comprehensive Plan for the Management of Paddlefish in Oklahoma," which serves as a guide for fisheries personnel working with Oklahoma's paddlefish populations.
"Without the expertise and assistance of Dr. Scarnecchia over the years, our paddlefish program would not be what it is today," said Brent Gordon, paddlefish/caviar coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "That's saying a lot, since Oklahoma is known as a world class destination for good paddlefish angling."
Paddlefish can live up to 50 years and are slow to reach sexual maturity - eight to 10 years for females and six to eight years for males. They spawn during the spring by swimming upriver after rains raise water levels and water temperatures increase. All of these factors lend to how sensitive the species can be if mismanaged. Paddlefish are a prehistoric species dating back to when dinosaurs were present on Earth.
It might be expected that such a large fish would be a top-end predator, but in fact paddlefish feed on microscopic insects called zooplankton. Therefore, they are not caught by anglers using traditional "bait-and-hook" methods. Instead, they are caught by snagging, or dragging, a large, weighted hook through the water fast enough to catch one of the giants. Snagging is best done in the spring, when the fish are concentrated in large numbers in rivers while spawning.
For more information about paddlefish in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.