- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s paddlefish snagging season is once again being closed early as anglers reached a 1,000-fish cap in a matter of days, but wildlife officials aren’t considering increasing the quota.

The annual season on the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in northwestern North Dakota runs through the month of May, but the state Game and Fish Department closes it early if the quota is approached, to protect the resource. The agency over the weekend decided to end the season at 9 p.m. Monday, marking the 13th time in the past 15 years that the season has been closed early.

Favorable weather and low river flows benefited anglers, who brought more than 900 paddlefish to a Williston nonprofit that harvests eggs and sells the caviar, state Fisheries Chief Greg Power said Monday. Game and Fish factors in an estimated number of fish that aren’t brought to North Star Caviar when deciding if the 1,000-fish quota is in play.

“Snaggers this year have been extremely successful,” Power said. “In addition, similar to last year, a high proportion of this year’s harvest has consisted of mostly females, further necessitating an early season closure.”

North Dakota hasn’t had a month-long paddlefish season since 2009. But Power said the quota won’t be increased and “there’s probably been more talk of reducing it,” or at least going to a license lottery system in which anglers would get a paddlefish tag only if chosen during a drawing.

Paddlefish live for decades and can grow to more than 100 pounds. Successful paddlefish snagging seasons have been driven by an excellent year in 1995 of fish reproduction and recruitment, or the number of young fish that survive. Reproduction and recruitment has been sporadic since then, in part due to drought and low water levels from 1999-2007.

“If we didn’t have that (1995) year class, I’m not sure we would have a paddlefish season at all,” Power said.

Game and Fish is optimistic about the 2011 year class of paddlefish and will have a better idea as the fish mature in coming years, he said.

A special four-day snag-and-release season will begin Tuesday and run through Friday in the rivers’ confluence area to benefit anglers with unused tags.

“With such a shortened season this year, we wanted to add something on the back end,” Power said.


Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake



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