Throw Back This Strange-looking Alabama Fish Immediately!


It’s neither a gar nor a shovelnose sturgeon. Some people mistake it for a catfish or a freshwater shark, but it’s not. The species itself is old, with fossils dating back millions of years discovered. It’s a distinct fish that’s simple to identify if you catch one, but if you do capture one in Alabama, toss it back right away! This is why…

This weird-looking, sizable fish is also known as the Mississippi paddlefish and spoonbill catfish, to name a few. It derives its official name, American Paddlefish, from the protruding, paddle-shaped bill or appendage that originates from its cranium.

Above is an image of a juvenile paddlefish. It was once one of the most abundant species of fish in Alabama, but habitat loss and commercial harvesting brought it perilously close to extinction.

Although the fish is not hazardous or poisonous, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Wildlife places significant protection on it. Failing to return it constitutes a violation of the law.

The American paddlefish is not a catfish or a bottom feeder, even though it is sometimes referred to as a spoonbill catfish.

Furthermore, although having shark-like features including a dorsal fin, tail fin, and smooth, scale-free skin, it is not a freshwater shark. It is the final paddlefish species to remain in the cartilaginous family and a kind of ray-fin fish.

It gets its name from the fact that all of the skeleton’s components are cartilage, not bones. The freshwater sturgeon is now the fish that is most closely related to paddlefish.

When paddlefish were caught for their eggs, which were used to make caviar, the number dropped very quickly. A lot of people thought that caviar made from Russian Beluga fish eggs was the best in the world for many years.

By the 1970s, Russia had almost no sturgeon left because they were being caught for food and not being protected at all. The demand for paddlefish eggs went through the roof when it was found that their eggs looked a lot like those of the Beluga sturgeon.

Environmentalists often found dumps full of the bodies of hundreds of female paddlefish that had been killed for their eggs after being caught in nets and trotlines. This meant that by the late 1980s, almost no American Paddlefish were left. Recently, thieves have been caught taking paddlefish to sell on the black market.

You can see paddlefish swimming through the water with their mouths open. They eat plankton by filtering it through threads in their lungs.

Throw Back This Strange-looking Alabama Fish Immediately!

Their long, sometimes very big bill is about a third of the fish’s length. They live for 30 years and can get up to 7 feet long and 200 pounds heavy. Before the fish was put on the list of endangered species, the Alabama state record for a paddlefish was set in 1982.

Sue Hollace of Muscle Shoals caught it in Wilson Lake. It weighed 52 pounds and 12 ounces. That paddlefish caught at Cherokee Lake last year was the state record for paddlefish. It was 6.3 feet long and weighed 120 pounds.

During a short season, Tennessee is one of a few states that lets people fish for paddlefish with some limits. Oklahoma also lets people catch some paddlefish.

I don’t agree with what the Alabama Department of Conservation and Wildlife says on their website that the fish can only be found in certain places near the coast right now.

Wilson Lake has had American paddlefish caught there as late as 2017 or later. A lot of environmentalists believe that the species is slowly getting better. There is hope that Alabama will have a lot of American paddlefish again.

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