- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department has reached an “11th hour” deal to provide free fish-cleaning services to anglers during the paddlefish snagging season that starts Monday, after a nonprofit that has provided the service for a quarter of a century suspended operations.

The effort will cost the state $15,000, but it won’t affect other programs and the cost is well worth it, state Fisheries Chief Greg Power said Friday.

“There might be 300, 400 fish cleaned. People could argue: ‘Was that valuable?’” he said. “The reality is, we need to get some data collected on these fish, we want to ensure the place is cleaned up, and we need to keep tabs on the harvest.”

The paddlefish season on the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers is held every May, and is scheduled the entire month. However, Game and Fish shuts down the season early if the 1,000-fish cap is reached, and that usually happens. Last year marked the 13th time in 15 years that the season was closed early.

Fish-cleaning services have been organized by the nonprofit North Star Caviar, which in turn kept paddlefish eggs to turn into caviar. Proceeds from caviar sales funded community grants and fish research.

The nonprofit announced two weeks ago that it was suspending operations due to a glut of cheap Chinese caviar on the market, leaving Game and Fish scrambling to replace the fish-cleaning service. The agency has reached a deal to pay the same people who in the past have conducted the cleaning for North Star Caviar, Power said.

It’s a one-time agreement, made “in the 11th hour,” and it’s uncertain what will happen with future seasons, Power said. “We’ll have to sort that out over time,” he said.

North Star Chairman Greg Hennessy said earlier this month that the nonprofit would resume operations only if the caviar market rebounds.

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