What I said was that we identified a segment of our anglers that were harvesting the most fish and crafted a regulation to limit this harvest for the conservation of the resource. This was not done with prejudice, but a simple limitation added which was aligned with the motivations of paddlefish anglers indicated in two years of angler surveys. Those motivations have been consistent both before and after the regulation changes.
Yes, I have some local/resident anglers that keep more than four fish in a season. In fact, I questioned one on Wednesday (from Lawton) about why he and his wife were keeping so many fish during their two-week stay. I said that "there is no legal limit, but there is a sensible one". Sensible harvest is the best kind.
The fact is, while our regulations are relatively liberal now and have been even more liberal in the past (especially compared to other states), it is a resource in decline. Therefore our regulations are unlikely to ever be relaxed- only progressively tightened. American paddlefish have experienced range-wide declines due to habitat loss, overfishing, siltation, and pollution, among other threats. Oklahoma has been afforded a luxury of a healthy, self-sustaining population in the Grand River lakes. Our research has shown (namely through information gained from the Paddlefish Research Center 2008-2010) that a large segment of the Grand Lake population was spawned in 1999. The discrete variables contributing to this epic recruitment event are not fully understood... my statistical research provides evidence that there was some sort of hydrological anomaly in 1998-99 which allowed for amazing spawn, hatch, and survival. Our genetic research backs up this assertion, but that project is not yet complete. Do I ever EXPECT this epic spawn to happen again? Unfortunately, no. Historical evidence suggests that the adult population (with harvest) should be somewhere around 1/3 to 1/5 of what we reached due to the 1999 recruitment boom.
So where does this leave us? We have experienced paddlefish abundance of epic proportions in Grand Lake (even trickling down to Hudson and Ft. Gibson, but most of my work is on Grand). The population is/was so abundant that their growth was limited by density and resources- i.e. the Grand Lake paddlefish were potentially stunted in growth when compared to other lakes within OK.
What does Kurt suggest that you do with a stunted crappie population? He encourages harvest. Therefore, the timing was basically perfect for a Paddlefish Research Center. We had the opportunity to learn a hell of a lot about paddlefish while allowing easy harvest for anglers. Anglers would provide specimens that we could essentially dissect and allow for untold research investigations, both large and small. The decisions were made to "get while the getting is good"... both for anglers and for ODWC. Such a large endeavor (the PRC) couldn't have happened at any other time.
As you can imagine, the 1999 year class won't live forever. In fact, the end of the liberal harvest era is upon us, as this huge year class reaches the end of their lifespan. (Age data from Grand lake indicate that fish over 15 years old become increasingly rare due to senescence and natural mortality.)
That time is upon us, therefore the regulations will change significantly in 2015, if not sooner.
Of course, I have omitted the aspect of $$$ from my discussions above. It does not factor into my decisions, except in a cautionary sense. I know it will be difficult as a biologist to convince administrators and politicians to cut back the caviar revenue stream. That's why I have to know what the hell I'm talking about, and I'm doing my best.
This summer, we will have a conclave in respect to future paddlefish regulations in OK. The paddlefish research committee includes ODWC biologists, administrators, university consultants, and respected paddlefish experts. Our decisions will be based upon what is the best action for the resource and the anglers.
As you may have noticed, I can type for days. If there are any specific questions, I'll do my best to remain transparent and answer them to the best of my abilities. But again- my job concerns the ecology, biology, physiology, and conservation of paddlefish in Oklahoma. Not caviar sales. Those questions are better funneled to my supervisor.
ODWC Paddlefish Biologist
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