For 20 years, from 1991 to 2011, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked paddlefish in the rivers around Pittsburgh in an attempt to restore a native fish to its ancestral habitats.
At least a few fish are surviving.
Proof of that showed up again recently when Justin Crosmun of Penn Hills was fishing the Allegheny River near Lock 3 in Cheswick. Fishing after dark, at around 8:45 p.m., he landed a paddlefish that weighed 10-11 pounds.
“I did alert the (Fish and Boat Commission) and the man I spoke to was so excited to hear about it. Most of the paddlefish caught are on the Monongahela and it’s good that one turned up in the good old Allegheny,” Crosmun said.
Crosmun released the fish back into the river – as required by regulation — to swim another day.
At least two other paddlefish have been caught by anglers this summer, one other on the Allegheny and one on the Monongahela.
The fish are unique. Capable of living 30 years or more, and reaching weights exceeding 100 pounds, their most distinctive feature is their paddle-like bill, or rostrum. It’s thought to aid them in balancing and in finding zooplankton, their usual food.
Paddlefish survive only in clean water. That’s what caused their demise locally; when Pittsburgh’s rivers – they were native to the Allegheny, Ohio, Clarion and Kiski, at least — were fouled by industrial pollution, the fish disappeared.
If the fish are to ever come back in a big way, it may take time. According to the commission, males don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re seven to nine years old, and females until they’re 10 to 12 years old, so some of those most recently stocked are still years away from producing eggs.
But, as Crosmun’s catch shows, there are some out there offering hope for the future.
Justin Crosmun of Plum with his Allegheny River paddlefish.