Common name: Paddlefish
Synonyms and Other Names: Mississippi paddlefish, spoonbill, spoonbill catfish
available through www.itis.gov
Identification: Robison and Buchanan (1988); Page and Burr (1991; 2011); Etnier and Starnes (1993); Jenkins and Burkhead (1994); Mettee et al. (1996). Paddlefish can be distinguished from all other North American freshwater fishes by the presence of a large, paddle-shaped rostrum (up to 1/3 total body length) on the snout anterior to the mouth.
Size: to 221 cm TL, but commonly to 150 cm TL (Page and Burr 1991; 2011)
Native Range: Mississippi River basin from southwestern New York to central Montana and south to Louisiana; Gulf Slope drainages from Mobile Bay, Alabama, to Galveston Bay, Texas. Formerly in the Lake Erie drainage in Ohio (and possibly lakes Huron and Michigan). Extirpated from Great Lakes basin (Page and Burr 2011).
Introduced into the Flint River below Newton, Georgia. The fish have dispersed downstream to Lake Seminole and the Apalachicola River, Florida (R. Ober and F. Paruka, personal communication).
Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Polyodon spathula are found here.
Table last updated 2/27/2023
† Populations may not be currently present.
Ecology: Polydon spathula typically inhabits large, deep, slow-moving rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (Bemis et al. 1997). It is a filter feeder, straining zooplankton out of the water with numerous large, fine gill rakers (Bemis et al. 1997). In recent years Paddlefish populations throughout the historic range have been declining, likely due to habitat modification and construction of dams that distrupt natural spawning cycles. Stocking programs for Paddlefish have been implemented in several states (Graham, 1997).
Means of Introduction: Approximately 1,200 fish, 10-15" in length, escaped an aquaculture facility along the Flint River in Georgia, during Tropical Storm Alberto in early July 1994 (Ober and Paruka, personal communication).
Status: Four or five fish have been collected from the stretch from Newton to the Apalachicola River. One individual was collected in the spring of 1997 and measured 30" (Paruka, personal communication). Two were collected below Jim Woodruff Dam on the Apalachicola River in 1997 and weighed 10-11 lbs (Ober, personal communication).
Impact of Introduction: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.
References: (click for full references)
Bemis, W.E., E.K. Findeis, and L. Grande. 1997. An overview of Acipenseriformes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 48:25-71.
Etnier, D. A., and W. C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.
Graham, K. 1997. Contemporary status of the North American paddlefish, Polyodon spathula. Environmental Biology of Fishes 48:279-289.
Jenkins, R. E., and N. M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.
Mettee, M.F., P.E. O'Neil, and J.M. Pierson. 1996. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin. Oxmoor House, Inc. Birmingham, AL. 820 pp.
Ober, R. - Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Albany, GA.
Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 2011. Field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Peterson Field Guides series. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.
Paruka, F. - USFWS, Panama City, FL.
Robison, H.W., and T.M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR.
Waldrip, L. 1993. 1992 fish stocking report. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. January 8, 1993. 1993: 9-12.
Paddlefish Frequently Asked Questions
- USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson
Revision Date: 7/2/2019
Peer Review Date: 3/1/2012
Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2023, Polyodon spathula (Walbaum, 1792): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=876, Revision Date: 7/2/2019, Peer Review Date: 3/1/2012, Access Date: 3/22/2023
This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.