Texas lake welcomes back paddlefish gone for years

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas
See Gallery
Texas lake welcomes back paddlefish gone for years
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones pose with their children Carys Zeta Douglas, left, and Dylan Micheal Douglas for photographers upon arrival at the Ant-Man European premiere in London, Wednesday, 8 July, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Catherine Zeta Jones and actor Michael Douglas with their children Dylan and Carys as they attend the European Premiere of Marvel's 'Ant-Man' at the Odeon Leicester Square on July 8, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Catherine Zeta Jones and actor Michael Douglas with their children Dylan and Carys as they attend the European Premiere of Marvel's 'Ant-Man' at the Odeon Leicester Square on July 8, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JUNE 18: American Jewish actor Michael Douglas arrives with his children and his wife Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones before receiving the Genesis Prize from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at The Jerusalem Theater on June 18, 2015 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images for Genesis Prize Foundation)
American Jewish actor Michael Douglas (R) arrives with his family including his wife, Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones (2R), son Dylan (2L) and daughter Carys (L) before receiving the Genesis Prize from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 18, 2015. The Genesis Prize honors individuals who have attained excellence in their professional field and have inspired others in their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. AFP PHOTO / POOL / DEBBIE HILL (Photo credit should read DEBBIE HILL/AFP/Getty Images)
Actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones sit together at ringside before the start of the WBC/IBF Welterweight Championship fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas Saturday, Sept. 18, 1999. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
British actress Catherine Zeta Jones, right, follows her husband, U.S. actor Michael Douglas to Free The Children press conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Oct. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Actor Michael Douglas, and his fiancee, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, pose for photographers outside the Russian Tea Room Friday, Nov. 17, 2000, in New York. The couple will wed at New York's Plaza Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 18. (AP Photo/Mitch Jacobson)
Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, nominated for best performance by an actress in a motion picture-musical or comedy for her work in "Chicago," arrives with husband and actor Michael Douglas for the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards, in Beverly Hills, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
U.S. actor Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta Jones on the stage during the Pavarotti & friends 2001 annual charity concert at the Parco novi Sad in Modena, Italy, Tuesday May 29, 2001. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Catherine Zeta-Jones, star of the film "Intolerable Cruelty," gets a kiss from her husband, Michael Douglas, after they arrived to the world premiere of the film Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2003, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones arrive for the 58th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

UNCERTAIN, Texas (AP) - Deep beneath the surface of Texas' only naturally formed lake there used to swim a massive, open-mouthed dinosaur-era fish with a long snout and prized caviar. Now, decades after the paddlefish was almost completely wiped out, it's coming back to Caddo Lake.

This time, the fish will be closely tracked by scientists, researchers and students in 20 schools as part of a broad collaboration between private, state and federal agencies attempting to revitalize a long-damaged ecosystem by changing the water releases from a nearby dam. Scientists believe if the paddlefish survive it will be a sign the ecosystem is recovering.

Rick Lowerre, president of the Caddo Lake Institute, a private nonprofit established in 1992 by The Eagles' frontman Don Henley to help preserve and revitalize the wetland area where he grew up, said the paddlefish will not "reverse what humans have done."

"It'll be very important if we can show ... that we can reintroduce and recover this fish, more as a symbol of returning the system to a healthy condition," Lowerre said.

The paddlefish experiment is part of a larger five-year project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change how water is released from the Lake O' the Pines Dam. Traditionally, the Corps released water largely to prevent flooding, especially in nearby Jefferson, a town of old time general stores, antique shops and bed and breakfasts.

As a result, the Corps failed to account for the river's natural flows, explained Laura Huffman, director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas, another group involved in the project. The stronger flows, or "spring pulses," signaled to the paddlefish it was time to migrate to their spawning grounds. When the flows disappeared, so did the paddlefish.

A new agreement with the Corps of Engineers and a local water provider will allow the releases to more closely mimic the watershed's natural flows while also providing flood control. The belief is this will allow the paddlefish, long on the state's list of threatened marine life, to once again flourish, Huffman said.

"It's the balance that's so important," she said. "When an ecosystem gets out of balance certain species will dominate that shouldn't dominate."

The Army Corps of Engineers is reaching similar agreements elsewhere in the country to redirect water releases as the ecological damage from dams becomes more apparent. By reintroducing up to 50 paddlefish into Caddo Lake, scientists and researchers will be able to test the theory that by more closely mimicking nature, some of the native habitats, ecosystems and wildlife that disappeared will start to recover.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inserted transmitters into the paddlefish, which can grow to be 7-feet long and 200 pounds. Three antenna-like receiving towers along different parts of the watershed will help scientists monitor the fish.

Students, meanwhile, will track them on the Caddo Institute's website. Some have already "named" their fish, and walk around with "Save the Paddlefish" signs. Local stores have collection boxes on their counters to raise money for the $100,000 project.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will track the fish from small boats in areas of the 26,000-acre lake where there are no receivers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the state agency released about 300,000 baby paddlefish into Texas waters, including Caddo Lake. It's unclear that any remain in the lake today, said Timothy Bister, a district fisheries biologist with the agency.

"About half of the fish that were tagged with transmitters were lost downstream within eight months of stocking," he said.

But the paddlefish thrived in the lake in the 1800s when little Jefferson boasted Texas' largest lake port and cotton flowed on steamboats and rafts down to New Orleans. The fish survived various changes that people made to the lake over the years. In the 1950s, though, when Lake O' the Pines was built and the flows were regulated, the paddlefish finally disappeared.

"There's no point in even doing this experiment unless we have those increased flows," Neal said. "It's going to have a really positive impact on a lot of things."
Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners