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North Dakota Outdoors - Paddlefish

What's 65 million years old, has a nose a third the length of its body, and is making a last stand in North Dakota? It's not Pinocchio and it's not an underwater version of Barney -- though that's close. It's the Paddlefish. There were paddlefish here when the dinosaurs roamed.

Historically, geologically, this fish is extremely important. In fact it's one of the oldest fresh-water fish known. (Comments of Greg Powers). The paddlefish isn't a relic. They just need a natural, free-flowing river to survive. And they have that here in North Dakota on the Missouri river, near Fort Union.

Game and Fish employees check paddlefish numbers each fall -- to see if conditions are being maintained for their survival.
The fish are measured, weighed, and a tag is slipped into each fish's jaw. The next angler catching the fish turns in the tag, so its migration can be determined. Once the Game and Fish scientists are done with their tests, the fish are put back in the river -- good as new.

(Greg Powers) Nobody is sure what the nose is for. In may be used for balance. But it's not a shovel or a sword. Paddlefish are very gentle creatures ....It never eats another fish in its life. "It's not a predator. It eats small plankton.
The problem with paddlefish is reproduction. They need the right temperature, rising water, and gravel banks for their eggs to settle in. Today, they find those conditions only on the upper Missouri and the lower Yellowstone rivers.
Two-thousand miles of the Missouri river have been channeled and dammed. Paddlefish spawning grounds were destroyed. That's why the remaining portion of the river is so important.

(Greg Powers) It's resilient, very resilient. It's been able to conquer about everything. And hopefully it can withstand the impacts of man. Sixty-five million years -- a fish at ancient -- seems almost magic. It's something that's from the heart. Most people who work with paddlefish fall in love with them real quick. It doesn't take long to understand why, if you see them in the wild.

You wish you could ask them a question or two. What were the dinosaurs like? What does it feel like, to have the burden of time on your shoulders? Why care about an old fish or the river they call home? Because -- there must be some wisdom in their age and endurance. In a world that has welcomed many, much-younger species, surely there's room for a creature stubborn enough to stick around for so long.

(Lex Hames - out among the great North Dakota Outdoors)