The American paddlefish is a critically endangered species, damaged by overfishing, pollution, and dams. While some see this as a sign to preserve the species by restricting fishing, others look at its rarity and only see dollar signs. Poachers flock to areas that see large numbers of paddlefish, and a recent population explosion in Tulsa has Oklahoma game wardens working overtime to get ahead of poachers.
The growth is a result of an oddity around the Zink dam near Tulsa. When the dam is shut down and the water stops moving, the fish are stuck in one area. This last season, a large number of paddlefish were trapped near the dam. Biologists are not sure why, but when the water started moving again the paddlefish chose to stay. As a result, not a day has gone by this season that wardens have not fined someone for paddlefish poaching.
A large poaching operation was stopped this week by game warden Brandon Fulton and a partner. They witnessed three men, Bic Hoang, Thanh Tran, and Son Nguyen, catching a fish and then quickly cleaning it. Fulton reported that the men worked with assembly line like efficiency, leading the warden to believe that this was not the gang’s first time poaching the rare fish.
The men were found in possession of 12 cleaned spoonbill paddlefish, 177.6 pounds worth. Even fishing legally, the men would only have been allowed one paddlefish per day, and two over the course of an entire season. Effectively that’s six times what they were legally allowed to possess.
The men claimed that they intended to eat the fish, and they would give the rest away. However, the paddlefish sells illegally for $10 a pound. The lucrative fish market and their efficiency cleaning the fish led game wardens to believe their intent was to sell the fish.
Regardless of intent, the possession of that many paddlefish is a crime. The men were find $20 a pound, twice what they could have charged for the fish. There will also be additional charges based on what biologists believe the fish weighed prior to cleaning. Still, Oklahoma wardens will have to stay on their toes for the rest of the season as poaching continues near the Zink dam.