Have you ever heard of paddlefish? They’re old — really old — and swam about the Earth’s rivers even when dinosaurs were still alive! Today, they’re much more difficult to find. Mostly, you can find them hiding out in the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. But even if you try, you might have a hard time. Biologist Katie Zipfel is trying to capture some of the fish for ongoing studies.

Zipfel works with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which wants to study on how the fish move about freshwater rivers and whether those fish were stocked or reproduced naturally.

Paddlefish almost went extinct by the 1980s because of river pollution, but as the rivers slowly became less polluted as a result of the Clean Water Act of 1970, the fish population rebounded as well. But they’re still not easy to track down.

Zipfel said, “We began raising them in our own hatcheries in the early 2000s. We stocked them until 2014, when problems at the Palestine hatchery caused us to suspend stockings.”

Right now, they’re trying to find out if those restocking efforts were largely successful or not. Zipfel explained, “We had always just assumed that since we were able to capture adults to use as brood stock for our hatchery program, the stockings were somewhat successful. Now, by doing a major population study, we think we’ll get a better handle on how successful they were.”

This is the first such effort since 2014, but it was much delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zipfel was pleased with the results. She said, “There are more paddlefish in the [Ohio] than I anticipated. I’m very encouraged by that. It appears we’ve had good survival of the fish we’ve stocked. We haven’t been able to sample any smaller fish so far, but we’re researching some techniques that might help us catch them.” 

Catching them is also difficult because they can travel hundreds of miles.

West Virginia Biologists Struggle To Capture And Study Reclusive Fish