The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources made the decision to suspend the commercial paddlefish season on the Alabama River indefinitely in order to protect the species from overfishing.
The state reports that some paddlefish harvesters were likely falsifying records to hide the fact that they’re taking too many of the fish. An investigation during the 2018 season resulted in 135 convictions for paddlefish fishing violations this year.
The long-nosed fish is valued for its eggs, which make for good caviar that can sell for $25 an ounce. Its value coupled with the species’ tendency to mature slowly and have low reproductive rates have made them susceptible to overfishing.
A statewide prohibition was implemented in 1988 in response to rapid stock depletion. The fishery didn’t open again until 2013 when state fisheries biologists deemed that stocks had recovered enough to support a limited fishery. Evaluation of fishing pressures was reportedly going well until the quality of reports from fishermen, upon which the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources depends, declined and the state started to suspect illegal sales.
After a review, state officials decided that any future paddlefish seasons could lead to overfishing and jeopardize the long-term health of the species on the river.