Paddlefish

Human interventions have had a significant impact on the viability of paddlefish. Overharvesting to meet demand for roe combined with modifications to the natural flows of rivers mean both sub-species face an uncertain future.

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Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)
© Kevin Schafer / WWF-Canon

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Key facts

  • Common Name

    Paddlefish, duckbill cat, spadefish and spoonbill cat.

  • Family Name

    Polyodontidae

  • Endangered?

    Vulnerable (A3de) to critically endangered (A2cd)

    IUCN

  • Length

    1.5m

  • Weight

    Average 27kg

  • Location

    North America and China

Exploited and dammed

Over-harvesting and river modifications have had negative impacts on both species of paddlefish, causing significant drops in population numbers.
The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius) is now listed as critically endangered by IUCN. An update to the data is required and there are fears that the species may actually be extinct.

The American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) is listed as vulnerable.

Physical description
The paddlefish is easily recognised by its large mouth and elongated snout, known as a rostrum. Average size is 1.5m, although some larger specimens have been recorded.

The rostrum helps the fish by acting as a stablilizer. As the fish moves through the water, the rostrum creates lift, helping the fish keep its head in a steady position.

Paddlefish are filter feeders and eat zooplankton.

Priority species

Paddlefish are a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What are the main threats?

Both American paddlefish and Chinese paddlefish have been affected by overharvesting. As with sturgeon, the eggs (roe) are collected and made into the luxury foodstuff caviar.

In North America, paddlefish are a target for sport fishing. In some US states fishing for paddlefish is outlawed, and other states attempt to monitor and control the annual harvest.

Paddlefish have also suffered as a result of interference with their natural habitat, in particular damming of rivers, sedimentation, pollution and poisoning of rivers and competition from introduced species. This particularly affects migration and breeding grounds.

What is WWF doing?

WWF works to promote the Marine Stewardship Council which supports sustainable fishing.

It also focuses on the restoration of rivers and natural water flows to protect habitat for endangered species.


 / ©: MSC
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© MSC

How you can help

  • Be a demanding consumer. Always ask for MSC certified caviar.
  • Spread the word! Share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.

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Did you know?

    • The paddlefish's bill or rostrum can detect weak electical fields, helping them find zooplankton to eat.
    • The spatula-like bill comprises half the length of the entire body of the paddlefish.

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