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Doug Leier: A look at the history of paddlefish snagging — and regulations — in North Dakota

Regardless of whether spring comes early or late, North Dakota's paddlefish snagging season starts May 1. A quick review shows this highly managed, unique resource is specifically regulated, monitored and adjusted where needed. The North Dakota G...

Prior to 1976, paddlefish harvest was not allowed in North Dakota. N.D. Game and Fish Department photo
Prior to 1976 paddlefish harvest was not allowed in North Dakota. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo)
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Regardless of whether spring comes early or late, North Dakota's paddlefish snagging season starts May 1.

A quick review shows this highly managed, unique resource is specifically regulated, monitored and adjusted where needed.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has established some new rules related to paddlefish snagging this year, but before I get into those, I thought it'd be of interest to highlight a timeline of paddlefish regulation changes throughout the years.

• 1976: First established season on paddlefish, with the limit set at two per day and two in possession. Prior to 1976, paddlefish harvest was not allowed in North Dakota, but Montana did have a season on the Yellowstone River.

• 1981: Daily limit reduced to one, but possession limit stayed at two.

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• 1985: Possession limit reduced to one.

• 1992: First year of tag system. Each snagger could purchase two tags.

• 1996 and 1997: Only one tag allowed per snagger per season.

• 1996: First year a harvest cap was established. The cap was 1,500 fish taken in North Dakota through 2002. From 2003 to the present, the annual harvest cap has been 1,000 fish.

• 1998-2000: Two tags again allowed. One tag per season allowed since 2001.

• 2001: First year the paddlefish season was closed early because of the harvest cap. Prior to that, it ran for the full season length, which varied from 198 days in 1976 to 46 days in 2000. From 2002 until this year, the official season was May 1-31, but because of the harvest cap, it has closed earlier than May 31 each year.

• 2002: First year that Game and Fish reduced daily snagging hours Daily snagging hours were reduced further in 2004.

• 2003: First year that two days of the week - Mondays and Tuesdays - were reserved for snag-and-release only. Sunday was later added as a snag-and-release-only day.

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And now for 2018:

• Paddlefish snagging days will begin at 7 a.m. (was 8 a.m.) and close at 7 p.m. (was 9 p.m.). Also, the season length is shortened to 21 days (May 1-May 21). These changes are an effort to improve safety conditions due to snagger congestion at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence area and also to extend the paddlefish season to more than a few days. In most recent years, the season has lasted only four to six days, because an early in-season closure occurs when the harvest cap of 1,000 paddlefish is reached. The daily closure at 7 p.m. also will allow for a more orderly and safe situation for snaggers backed up at the cleaning station.

• The overall season length is reduced to 21 days, as in the past 17 years, the season has run the full 31 days only twice.

As in past years, snag-and-release of all paddlefish is required on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Therefore, the first two days of the 2018 season are Tuesday and Wednesday, which are mandatory snag and harvest days.

Mandatory harvest of all snagged paddlefish is required on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On these days, all paddlefish caught must be kept and tagged immediately.

Doug Leier, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Prior to 1976, paddlefish harvest was not allowed in North Dakota. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

Doug Leier, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Prior to 1976, paddlefish harvest was not allowed in North Dakota. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

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