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HOOKED ON EAST TEXAS: Paddlefish -- a comeback story

Efforts are underway to bring back a species to Caddo Lake that predate dinosaurs.

KARNACK, Texas — Something historic, or rather pre-historic happened at Caddo Lake recently. Hooked On East Texas was there as efforts resumed to bring back a fish older than the dinosaurs.

When we arrived, visitors were already lined up along Caddo Lake to get a rare glimpse of something that was once common here. Carolyn Edwards was one of those spectators who came to see paddlefish. Edwards wanted to know how they are stocked.

“We want to be educated on how they’re going to release them, are they going to dump them from a truck”, Edwards said.

Juvenile paddlefish were raised at the federal fish hatchery in Natchitoches, Louisiana and brought to Caddo Lake for stocking. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are part of an effort, along with the Caddo Institute to reintroduce paddlefish to Caddo Lake. 

A thousand fish were tagged and released into Caddo Lake. Paddlefish were once native to Caddo Lake. The species dates back 350 million years, making them older than dinosaurs.

Laura-Ashley Overdyke, who heads up the Caddo Institute, which is a group who's mission is to protect Caddo, said she felt like a kid on Christmas seeing the paddlefish stocked. 

“There were six species of paddlefish around the world, You can tell from fossil records, but this is the only one that survives," Overdyke said.

The Caddo Institute is the driving force behind the stockings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversee the project. This stocking marks the halfway point in the 10-year strategy to bring paddlefish back. Each fish is tagged for tracking. 

Overdyke said there is a good reason for tagging each paddlefish.

“The reason they want to tag these is to know were these fish we released or are these fish that have been born naturally here in the lake itself," she said. 

Paddlefish can live to be 70years old and can weigh up to 200 pounds. 

This species once thrived in Caddo Lake but disappeared. Why? The answer is habitat change. 

Caddo Lake once had a gravelly bottom where paddlefish could spawn. But construction of Lake of the Pines in the 50s changed the river flow on Big Cypress Bayou. The gravelly bottom disappeared, then the paddlefish disappeared. That’s why this program means so much.

And it’s important to Shanetta Brown who runs a non-profit urban garden. She has a pro-active approach when it comes to nature. 

“So it’s very important to act now in preserving things that have been around for the longest time in a changing environment," Brown said.

They say every great story has a comeback and the story of paddlefish in Caddo Lake is just getting started.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Tim Bister said this is just the beginning and it will take a number of years to know if the efforts to bring the paddlefish back are paying off.  

“That’s the ultimate success is when we get to the point, we have enough adult paddlefish in the system to where they’re reproducing and uh, self-sustaining their own population.” Bister said. 

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