An Ancient Fish Returns to Caddo Lake

Paddlefish Return to Caddo Lake

Following flow restoration work, researchers have released 47 paddlefish into this Texas Lake.


Arizona's Bill Williams RIver

Learn how changing flows can improve habitat in arid regions.


The Nature Conservancy played a key role in the return of paddlefish at Big Cypress Bayou and the lake it forms on the Texas-Louisiana border—Caddo Lake. In March 2014, biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released 47 paddlefish, which can live up to 30 years, grow to 7 feet and weigh 200 pounds (view a map of the release sites).

The release was part of an experiment designed to provide data that could inform a future plan for a large-scale stocking into the lake and bayou. While paddlefish populations are faring better in some states, the fish remains listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act and is rarely found in Texas. 

An Ancient Fish in Decline

Paddlefish are among the oldest surviving fish species in North America, having lived in rivers and bayous throughout the Mississippi River Basin since the days of the dinosaurs.

Researchers believe the paddlefish in Caddo Lake and its tributaries fell into steep decline or were extirpated over the years following the construction of an upstream dam in 1959 to create Lake O’ the Pines on Big Cypress Bayou. 

Natural Flows for Sustainable Rivers

The dam changed the natural flow patterns, including the high flows or “spring pulses” that provided paddlefish and other fish species a cue to move to spawning sites and foraging habitat made accessible by the high water. A decade-long effort to restore flows from the dam so that they better mimic natural river patterns was among the first steps in restoring wildlife habitat at Caddo Lake, which is designated a “Wetland of International Importance” under the 1973 Ramsar Convention. 

The flow restoration at Caddo Lake is part of the Sustainable Rivers Project (SRP), a nationwide effort led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Nature Conservancy, to demonstrate cost-effective ways to modernize dam operations that produce more benefits—like improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities—without sacrificing flood protection or water supply. 

Measuring Success

Each of the 47 paddlefish released into Caddo Lake contained a surgically implanted radio transmitter for monitoring its movements. Measured success at Caddo Lake and at other SRP demonstration sites are helping guide similar efforts at other Corps dams, which number nearly 700 across the nation. 

Partners in the experimental paddlefish release include The Nature Conservancy, the Caddo Lake Institute, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  

You can learn more about the paddlefish project by watching this video

Flo the Paddlefish can be tracked here


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