Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive May 2009 Show 0921 Paddlefish

Paddlefish

We take you to northeast Oklahoma to learn more about the production of Okie Caviar, and an effort underway to stop the poaching and protect a rare species of fish in our state.
Paddlefish

Paddlefishes

For more information visit this link:

Oklahoma Wildlife Paddlefish and Research Center

Show Dates

Show 0921: Paddlefish

Air date: May 24, 2009

 

Transcript

Rob:  Well when the soviet empire fell in 1991, its thriving caviar industry along the Caspian Sea collapsed as well, and with it, an unintended consequence developed, a black market for poached eggs from the Oklahoma paddlefish.  Fast forward to today where a new effort is underway to stop the poaching and protect a rare species of fish.  Our Russ Jowell takes us to northeast Oklahoma to learn more about the production of Okie Caviar.

Russ:  It’s a chilly afternoon on the Spring River, but anglers, Nels and Sarah Rodefeld are hoping their luck is hot and the fish are biting.

Nels Rodefeld:  We're up here trying to catch some paddlefish.

Russ:  It’s just another day on the river for the Rodefelds, except Nels works for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Rodefeld:  It depends on the day, and depends on the fish, and how concentrated they are.

Russ:  You might say their paddlefish trip has a dual purpose, the first, conservation; the second, caviar.

Keith Green:  This is the end of the washing process, where we’re getting the blood and the membrane out of the eggs.

Russ:  Back on shore, Keith Green is overseeing a gourmet kitchen of sorts, processing harvested paddlefish on one end, while harvesting a kind of edible gold on the other.

Green:  Some of those fish are going to have eggs in them.  Those eggs are taken and used to make caviar.  And that caviar is sold worldwide, and that’s what really supports this program.

Russ:  It’s the Oklahoma Paddlefish Research Program, an effort started by Keith that’s as much about preserving an ancient species of fish as it is about providing a delectable confection.

Green:  I was a game warden for 26 years, and I’ve been in on a lot of federal cases, a lot of cases where people were coming in to Oklahoma.  They would put out nets, or they would go catch fish.  And they would cut the eggs out of the fish, and sink the fish, and the whole fish would be wasted.  And they were doing it for nothing more than the black market of the caviar.

Russ:  So Keith set up a one-stop shop for paddlefish anglers, providing a needed service to Oklahoma fishermen while also cracking down on those whose intentions are not so innocent.

Green:  We take the fish in, and we’ll clean them.  When we clean them, we fillet them.  We take the red meat, the skin and the red meat, off the back of them and package them and seal them, and hand them back to the fishermen.  We can look at the few people that aren’t bringing the eggs in here and wonder why.  One, they may want to clean their own fish, which some of the people do.  Two, they may be wanting to go catch another one.  Or three, they're looking at the eggs for the black market.

Russ:  While the paddlefish program is based in Oklahoma, it has managed to attract anglers from all across the nation, anglers like Michael Henrichs from Blair, Nebraska.

Michael Henrichs:  It’s a real service to the fishermen, and also it should help keep the poachers from poaching, you know, because you’re undercutting the market.  We used to just keep the males, try to keep just the males, but now that we know the eggs aren’t going to waste, now we catch whatever we want to, and when their day is done, we’re done.

Green:  Last year there were 48 states represented, here in Oklahoma, coming in to paddlefish, getting their paddlefish permits, and there were several countries.  So, it is a big fisheries.  It’s a nationwide fisheries that people come here to do.

Russ:  Showing that angling in Oklahoma can reel in much more than just fish.

Rob:  And Russ tells us that this effort has sparked a new legal industry in Oklahoma.  State officials recently returned from Brussels, Belgium, where they showcased Oklahoma’s very own brand of caviar to world-renowned chefs.