The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has canceled the paddlefish snagging harvest season that was scheduled to open May 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amendment to the state’s 2020-22 fishing proclamation does allow for the possibility of a one-week snag-and-release season May 15-21, which is two weeks later than the normal opening day, the department said Friday in a news release.

The safety of snaggers, caviar processors and data collection staff all are a major concern, said Greg Power, fisheries chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck. The season traditionally draws snaggers by the hundreds to the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

Greg Power, fisheries chief, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
Greg Power, fisheries chief, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

“Paddlefish snaggers concentrate in large numbers in a small area, and often participate in snagging while shoulder to shoulder,” Power said. “There is no realistic way to maintain proper separation.”

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If Game and Fish allows the weeklong snag-and-release season, Power said data strongly suggests considerably fewer snaggers will participate.

“The snag-and-release season is considered acceptable as a lower-risk activity for those avid snaggers who just want some time outdoors, usually by themselves,” Power said.

If there is a snag-and-release season, anglers would only need a fishing license. A paddlefish tag would not be required.

The Northstar Caviar fish cleaning, egg processing and boat shuttle operation will not be open this year.