The Natchitoches national Fish Hatchery is taking on a new project: raising Paddlefish, an ancient species that’s been swimming in Earth’s waters for over 65 million years.
The Paddlefish isn’t federally listed as such, but it’s an imperiled species. It’s become imperiled for two reasons: Its eggs are eaten as caviar and after Hurricane Katrina salt water intrusion into its environment killed off a large percentage of the population.
The fish are raised in raceways before they’re moved to one of the 53 ponds the Hatchery has located on 100 acres of land. Hatchery Manager Grant Webber and his staff use nets to scoop the small fish out of the raceways before transferring them into the big ponds.
Paddlefish are often referred to as primitive fish, because they retain characteristics of their early ancestors, including a skeleton that is almost entirely cartilaginous and a paddle-shaped rostrum (snout) that extends nearly one-third their body length. This species can reach up to 7-feet in length and can weigh up to 400 lbs.
They’ve evolved over the years to become filter feeders, much like a whale shark. Their rostrum and cranium are covered with sensory receptors for locating zooplankton, a primary food source.
The Hatchery is raising these fish as part of a cooperative effort to bring back the species in certain parts of Mississippi. The goal is to restore the population in the Pascagoula River. The fish will be transported to restock the river after they’ve been raised to an adequate size at the Hatchery in Natchitoches.
Besides this new project raising Paddlefish, the Hatchery is also trying to develop new cultural programs. It also works to control non-native species in the area such as the Alligator Gar.