Jason's paddlefish

Game, Fish & Parks biologist Jason Sorensen helps manage the state's paddlefish population through science and study, but he also does what he can with a rod and reel. 

Submitted photo

Two lakes in Eastern South Dakota have 79,000 new residents.

The Gavins Point Fish Hatchery just finished releasing 79,000 paddlefish into Lake Francis Case and Lake Sharpe outside of Yankton last week.

The hatchery has been releasing fish into Lake Francis Case for several decades and recently has started releasing fish into Lake Sharpe, but this is the largest amount released into either lake in the hatchery's history, according to assistant hatchery director Nick Starzl. 

He said the second highest amount was 60,000, which was released a few years ago. Originally 90,000 fish were tagged, and of those 90,000 were released.

"Due to the construction of the dam they don’t survive well in their early stages of live," Starzl said. "There is very little nursery habitat available and no area to forage or feed or get bigger so there is little to no reproduction."

The project is a way to take fish who have been raised at the hatchery from May to September when they measure about 12 inches. Starzl said this is a way to bypass the stage of life when they are susceptible to predators.

"They don’t survive well in their early fry stage, once they get to be this size they have much better chance of surviving," Starzl said.

In Lake Francis Case, just over 35,500 fish were released while in Lake Sharpe that number was a little more than 43,500.

"Lake Francis Case has a standing request and our first priority is to get that lake stocked," he said. "Lake Sharpe has been a second priority in the past, so that target number hasn’t been hit in a while. We wanted to make sure that got taken of this year because it hasn’t in the past."

The reason the fish have been released into the lakes is that they serve a purpose to the ecosystem, and they provide fishing opportunities for local anglers.

"They’re a planktivore, so they utilize a nutrient source out there that is un-used by other fish, most of the other species eat other small fish," he said. "Paddlefish are going to be eating plankton and creating that value, it’ll cycle those nutrients out into the water, they also provide a food source when they spawn and have young fish, that’ll provide a food source for a lot of the fish out there."

The fishing community in Southeast South Dakota probably won't mind the additions, either.

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"It’s an increasingly popular fishery, especially in Lake Sharpe that hasn’t had that opportunity has long as Lake Francis Case," Starzl said.

The fish will also provide a good food source when they are younger for some of the other fish in the ecosystem.

"There will be a certain number that are preyed upon and don’t make it to maturity, and that consideration goes into the stocking numbers," Starzl said.

The fish are captured at the mouth of the White River when they are adults and brought back to the hatchery for breading. The fish is a prehistoric species and can sometimes survive for 50-years.

The fish is native to the Missouri River, and project director Jeff Powell told the Associated Press last week that it is important to protect the population that has been impacted by dams built along the Missouri River.

"We want to have healthy and genetically appropriate paddlefish populations everywhere," he said. "South Dakota is a big part of their natural habitat along the Missouri River."

Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.