The Plight of the Paddlefish

With regards to aquatic creatures, sea creatures tend to ‘steal the show,’ as they say. To be fair, there are some really neat and quirky species that inhabit the oceans. Like this guy….

Stonefish (Synanceia spp.): This family contains the most venomous fish species- Photo by walknboston

And this rarely seen shark…

Frilled Shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus): An ancestral shark rarely seen by humans- Photograph by Awashima Marine Park, Getty Images

Freshwater fishes, however, seem to get less attention despite containing a lot of neat variation, as well.

In Ohio, we have the super neat American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). 

American paddlefish (I mean, seriously, look at those gills!)- Photograph by

The American paddlefish is made of cartilage and is known for its protruding, spatula-like snout. This snout is unique in that it is covered in electoreceptors, aiding in the capture of its prey (which consists of plankton). American paddlefish are scaleless and require slow moving water. A given female spawns every two to three years and averages 7,500 eggs/pound of her body weight. 

                                                                                          That’s a lot of eggs.

Most likely you have not seen this quirky looking cartilaginous organism. The reason this species is not more well-known is most likely due to its low abundance. In fact, the American paddlefish is listed as threatened in Ohio. This is due to habitat alteration, pollution, and caviar-loving individuals (mmmm…nothing like some undeveloped paddlefish to go with my 1917 cabernet sauvignon).

Paddlefish used to be abundant throughout Ohio’s river systems and the Great Lakes. Shown below is an excerpt of a table found in a USGS report on fish abundance in the Great and Little Miami River Basins. Paddlefish, as seen in the table, were no longer sited in any of the three surveyed rivers after 1980. Scientists believe the increase in sediment and chemical compounds in the water due to urbanization and agricultural runoff greatly affected this species.

Table excerpt taken from “Occurrence and Distribution of Fish Species in the Great and Little Miami River Basins, Ohio and Indiana, Pre-1900 to 1998”, USGS.

Now paddlefish are only seen in the Ohio river from about Portsmouth to Cincinnati.

So next time your annoying, perpetually vacationing friend tries to gloat about snorkeling with Angelfish, you can stun him/her with a photoshopped picture of you high-fiving an American paddlefish (because… why not?).

A totally realistic depiction to use for bragging rights (*cough cough*). – Pre-altered photographs by Caddo Lake Institute and




ODNR Division of Wildlife: 

Ohio History Connection:

Ohio River Foundation:


Animal Diversity Web:


5 thoughts on “The Plight of the Paddlefish

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