Yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released close to 50 paddlefish (aka Spoonbill Catfish) into Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border and the river that forms it, Big Cypress Bayou.

If you'd like to see an actual photo of the paddlefish, go HERE.

The release is an experiment, designed to provide data that could inform a future plan for a large-scale stocking at Caddo Lake. While paddlefish populations are faring better in some states, the fish remains listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act and is rarely found in Texas.

Paddlefish can live up to 30 years, grow to 7 feet and weigh 200 pounds. They are among the oldest surviving fish species in North America, having lived in rivers and bayous throughout the Mississippi River Basin since the days of the dinosaur. Researchers believe the paddlefish in Caddo Lake and its tributaries fell into steep decline over the years following the construction of an upstream dam in 1959 to create Lake O’ the Pines.

“The dam changed the natural flow patterns, including the high flows or ‘spring pulses’ that provided paddlefish and other fish species a cue to move to spawning sites and foraging habitat the high water made accessible,” said Pete Diaz, a USFWS fish biologist.

Recording Artist Don Henley, who is founder and chairman of the board of the Caddo Lake Institute, said the paddlefish experiment is possible because of the hard work of many partners to restore flows to Caddo lake, including The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“Caddo Lake is a special place,” Henley said. “It’s a ‘Wetland of International Importance’ but to keep it a healthy and ecologically productive system, we need flows that better mimic the natural patterns of high and low conditions.”

Since 2004, the partners in the process have worked together to change the release pattern from Lake O' the Pines for downstream fish and wildlife habitat and wetlands in and above Caddo Lake.  Lake O' the Pines is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and much of the water in the lake is owned by the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District.

Robert Speight with the NETMWD said the experimental release of the paddlefish will help determine if the altered flows provide the intended benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. “These paddlefish go back to prehistoric times, and seeing them return is wonderful. But the lessons we learn here will be beneficial to many other species as well,” he said.