The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has indefinitely suspended future commercial paddlefish fishing seasons on the Alabama River. Paddlefish mature slowly and have low reproductive rates making them highly susceptible to over-fishing. This coupled with the lack of reliable fishery-dependent data from recent commercial paddlefish seasons has led to this protective measure.
A review by ADCNR of the biological information and outcomes of the 2017 and 2018 commercial paddlefish seasons indicated that any future commercial paddlefish harvest seasons could lead to over-fishing and jeopardize the long-term sustainability of paddlefish in the Alabama River.
For more information about paddlefish in Alabama, visit: www.outdooralabama.com/non-game-fish/paddlefish
This ban comes in response to concerns over paddlefish conservation as well as issues of fishing regulation within the state. After handing out 135 convictions to commercial fishermen who underreported their catches during the 2018 paddlefish season, the ADCNR decided it best to cancel future seasons until they can be more certain the species is not at risk. Alabama is on the short list of U.S. states with native wild paddlefish populations, and now may lose out on years of profit from paddlefish caviar sales due to poor internal regulations of fisheries and paddlefish populations.
Other states that allow paddlefish to be harvested commercially are not having the same issues of over-catching. This brings the effectiveness of Alabama's state regulation of fisheries and enforcement penalties into question. The article referenced that the ADCNR received poor and inaccurate information from fisheries in the state for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, which moved the state to shut-down future paddlefish seasons indefinitely. However, there is no way to assess the damage done to AL paddlefish without studying the populations themselves. The number of mature paddlefish swimming in the rivers of Alabama remains a mystery, and it is still not perfectly clear how long over-fishing has been occurring within the state. If the charged fisheries have been miscounting paddlefish for only the past 1 to 2 years then it might warrant skipping only a season or two. If unlawful activities have been widespread in the industry since the limited annual commercial season was reinstated back in 2013 then it could be a long time before commercial paddlefishing returns to AL.
At least the ADCNR seems to be getting more serious again. They are cracking down on illegal fishing methods, false records provided by fisheries, and over-fishing by issuing convictions. We can't enjoy a delicacy like fish roe and caviar if we are not concerned with conserving the fish that the delicacy comes from. It is important that Alabama follows practices similar to those of its neighboring states and truly enforces research-based catch limits on paddlefish harvests rather than issuing slap-on-the-wrist fines to fishermen underreporting their catch.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to get any paddlefish caviar from Alabama next season no matter how well the species is actually doing in the state. Many believe the ban is unnecessary, and it may very well be. We must do everything we can as citizens and caviar lovers to conserve the paddlefish and other species wherever they may be threatened. However, fishermen in the area claim that the Alabama paddlefish population remains steady, and blame both the unethical fisheries participating in the under-reporting of catches as well as their state's government for ruining seasons of profit. The recent dip in conservational focuses within the state has brought us to a point where no one really knows how Alabama paddlefish are fairing in their natural habitat. Hopefully more will be done to figure this out.
Sources: Courier Journal