by Max Brantley
The Game and Fish Commission today decided to put off biologists' request to stop the commercial haul of paddlefish in the Ozark pool of the Arkansas River for fear of overfishing. Paddlefish roe has become popular as a caviar substitute because of declining availability of Russian and Iranian caviar.
They'll take the issue up again next month. Meanwhile, break out the champagne and get you some of those fish eggs.
News release on the jump.
GAME AND FISH NEWS RELEASE
LITTLE ROCK - Commissioners from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today tabled a proposal to close the Ozark Pool of the Arkansas River to commercial paddlefish harvest. If passed, the closure would have taken effect immediately. Paddlefish roe (eggs) are sold as caviar around the world.
Commissioners asked that biologists from the AGFC work with commercial paddlefish fishers before they take another look at the proposed closure during the February commission meeting.
Biologists requested the closure after catch data from the November 2006 special season on the Ozark Pool showed greatly increased commercial fishing participation and the potential over harvest of the population in that pool. The Ozark Pool of the Arkansas River between the Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam at Ozark and the James W. Trimble Lock and Dam near Fort Smith.
Arkansas is one of a few states that allow commercial harvest of paddlefish and sturgeon for their eggs. In recent years, the value and demand for paddlefish and sturgeon roe has increased dramatically because of stringent regulations regarding the shipping of caviar.
The reduction in the population of beluga sturgeon from the Caspian Sea in Russia and Iran has increased the need for more stringent regulations on the fish. Both paddlefish and sturgeon are long-lived species that live in large rivers already heavily impacted by dams, dredging and pollutants. Coupled with the decrease in foreign populations of caviar species, there is an increase in harvest pressure for Arkansas’ species to meet the world’s caviar demand, according to AGFC malacologist Bill Posey.
Posey said wildlife officers and fisheries biologists had documented numerous violations of paddlefish regulations. "The violations included illegal cutting of paddlefish and wanton waste of game within the pool," Posey said. "There was a significant increase in the number of citations issued during the special season as compared to previous special seasons."
In other business, the commission:
*Accepted the donation of seven acres of land along the Strawberry River from the Municipal Recreational Improvement District of Horseshoe Bend. The site adjoins the AGFC Strawberry River Access. Proposed uses for the sight include a canoe access with parking, a park or picnic area and wade fishing access.
*Approved the donation of two bull elk permits for the 2007 September elk season to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The permits are auctioned and the money returned to the AGFC to be used in elk habitat improvements, public education and research. More than $375,000 has been raised since 1998 from the auction of the two permits with 85 percent of that amount returned to the AGFC. One permit is auctioned during the annual Arkansas RMEF banquet and the second is auctioned at the group's national banquet.
*Approved operating procedures and permit applications for geocaching activities on AGFC-owned properties.
*Approved a $35,000 budget increase for the AGFC's Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs program. The money will be used to purchase a floating classroom for aquatic education programs at schools, teacher workshops and other AGFC programs.
*Approved a construction project at Peeler Bend Access on Alum Fork of the Saline River in Saline County. Materials for the $67,000 project will be purchased by the AGFC. Saline County Judge Lanny Fite has committed the county to provide all labor and heavy equipment needed to construct the access site. The access is on Saline County property and the county has agreed to handle future maintenance. The access will consist of a boat ramp, parking, riprap for erosion control and road work.