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Published May 11, 2012, 07:15 AM

Paddlefish season, popular with oil boom workers, closes early

Paddlefish snagging season will close early today, in part because of an influx of oil boom workers who participated this year. Fred Ryckman, fisheries supervisor for the northwest district of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the harvest season will be one of the shortest ever at 6½ days.

By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. — Paddlefish snagging season will close early today, in part because of an influx of oil boom workers who participated this year.

Fred Ryckman, fisheries supervisor for the northwest district of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the harvest season will be one of the shortest ever at 6½ days.

The monthlong season began May 1, with some days designated as catch-and-release days. The department can close the season early if anglers near a cap of harvesting 1,000 paddlefish.

Ryckman said early Thursday afternoon that 750 to 800 paddlefish had been harvested. The harvest season will close at 1 p.m. today.

A weeklong snag-and-release season will start Saturday.

Ryckman said nice weather and low river flows contributed to the shorter season, but a major factor was the sport’s popularity with oil boom workers.

Ryckman said he noticed one day at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, one of the sites for paddlefishing, that about two-thirds of the vehicle license plates were from out of state.

“There are tens of thousands of new people up here, and many are looking for something to do in their spare time,” Ryckman said.

The paddlefish, which can live to age 60 or older and typically weigh 50 pounds or more, are prized for their caviar.

The nonprofit organization North Star Caviar cleans the fish for free in exchange for a donation of the paddlefish eggs.

The eggs are processed into high-quality caviar, and the organization uses the funds to make grants to community organizations.

Bob Kuehn, who has been involved with processing caviar for the North Dakota paddlefish season for 10 years, and Montana’s for 20 years, said he’s noticed the annual tradition become more family-oriented.

June Sheaks of North Star Caviar said she also saw many workers who brought their families out to enjoy the sport.

“This is a nice little diversion, and the kids get a kick out of seeing those great big fish,” Sheaks said.

Last year, the harvest season lasted 11 days, but it got off to a slow start due to a blizzard.

The only year with a shorter harvest season was 2008, which was five days, Ryckman said.


Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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