This is a big, ol' paddle fish..and this is a relatively small one. Chris O'Barra, a biologist with The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, says paddlefish are certainly unique. "Paddle fish are the largest fish that live in West Virginia waters. They inhabit our large rivers, Ohio and Kanawha, and some of their tributaries. They'll move up at certain times of the year. They're plankton feeders, which means that they feed on small, microscopic organisms in the water."
These odd looking creatures eat by opening their mouths and, basically, filtering the plankton out as the water passes through. They must eat a lot, because they grow to be huge.
"They'll grow up to 100 pounds, most of the fish we get here are probably in the 25-50 lb. category. They are kind of an endangered species in West Virginia, we had a decline in the 1920's up to the 1970's and we've been trying to restore the species primarily in the Ohio River and the Kanawha River." says O'Barra.
In fact, we were there five years ago when these little guys went into the Kanawha River down by the falls. A relatively new stocking practice designed to bring back healthy populations of a very old species.
"Evolutionary, they are also our oldest fish closely related to the sturgeon and some of our cold water gar. They are an ancient fish. Historically, people have thought of them as related to catfish: they look somewhat like catfish, except for the paddle they get their name from." says O'Barra.
But unlike catfish, there aren't enough paddle fish in the waters for unregulated fishing, so, for now, if you catch one, you have to let it go.
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