Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Wildlife Dept. Fishing for Commercial Success through Caviar

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Wildlife Dept. Fishing for Commercial Success through Caviar

Article excerpt

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will soon be throwing a line into the caviar market pool to see if there are any bites.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission, which governs the department, approved on Tuesday the funding of $602,000 for a pilot program designed to sell paddlefish eggs wholesale throughout the world. The project is expected to be a positive for fishermen, the paddlefish and the department.

According to department officials, the fishermen would benefit from the egg-harvesting process, in which the fish would be cleaned, filleted and returned to them. The fish would benefit from the increased research and data gathering that will require population monitoring and maintenance, while the agency itself expects to gain from the increased exposure and anticipated revenues from the sale of the caviar.

The program, which is set to kick off by Feb. 15, was initially brought before the commission in November 2006 as a way to tap into a relatively unused market at a time when caviar demand has been at a peak.

Most caviar has traditionally been shipped in from the Caspian Sea but the United Nations put a moratorium on caviar in January 2006 due to concerns about stock level reporting and illegal sales.

Brent Gordon, northeast regional supervisor for the department, said the eggs had been a "wasted natural resource" in Oklahoma. The paddlefish, which has an adult weight range of 60 to 120 pounds, is traditionally found in Grand Lake via the Neosho River.

A mobile processing center will be located on recently purchased property at Twin Bridges, which is the intersection of the Neosho River and the Spring River.

Lt. Keith Green, game warden supervisor for the department, said the center will be positioned at that location starting out but could be mobilized to another location - such as Fort Gibson Lake or Keystone Lake - if the paddlefish population grew in those areas.

The department anticipates revenues of about $355,000 annually based on a wholesale price of $90 to $200 a pound. Green said the agency should be able to break even within 2.24 years of the pilot project.

A survey was taken of 450 fishermen throughout the state about the proposed project, and the agency was overwhelmed with the positive results. …

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