MICRA's Paddlefish/Sturgeon Committee was formed in1992 to address the needs of paddlefish and sturgeon species inhabiting the Mississippi River Basin, and to provide guidance for their future management. During that same year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service developed a National Plan for the management and conservation of paddlefish and sturgeon species in the United States. The purpose of that framework plan was to reduce duplication of efforts within the Service and to better coordinate federal, state, and private efforts (National Paddlefish and Sturgeon Steering Committee 1992).
Four of nine paddlefish and sturgeon species identified in a National Framework Plan are endemic to the Mississippi River Basin. These include the paddlefish, lake sturgeon, shovelnose sturgeon and pallid sturgeon which inhabit the Basin's large rivers, lakes, impoundments, and oxbow lakes. A fifth species, the Alabama sturgeon, occurs in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a man-made distributary of the Basin. The National Framework Plan was intended to develop a national perspective defining the Service's role in paddlefish and sturgeon management, coordinating Service activities related to these species, and for developing partnerships within the Basin states for their management. MICRA was identified as the key coordinating body for the management of fisheries populations in the Mississippi River Basin.
Historically, with the exception of the pallid and Alabama sturgeons, all species were commercially important in the Mississippi River Basin. By the late 1890's, however, overfishing, habitat losses from the construction of dams, and watershed development and alteration had caused a severe decline in many stocks. Historically, the paddlefish was widely distributed throughout the basin, but presently occurs only in large numbers where it is intensively managed. Lake sturgeon, listed as endangered in some states, were never found south of Arkansas. The federally endangered pallid sturgeon was historically restricted to the Missouri River and the lower Mississippi River drainages, and the shovelnose sturgeon is still widely distributed, but populations appear to be declining in many areas.
MICRA's Paddlefish/Sturgeon Committee developed its own Strategic Plan for addressing issues related to paddlefish and sturgeon management in 1993. The goals of that plan include the following:
Goal 1: Identify and prioritize issues and concerns affecting paddlefish and sturgeon resources in the Mississippi River Basin and develop a mechanism for addressing them.
Goal 2: Facilitate communication and coordination among entities responsible for paddlefish and sturgeon resource management in the Mississippi River Basin.
Goal 3: Develop a basin-wide information management program based upon standard methods for collecting and reporting paddlefish and sturgeon fishery resource data.
Goal 4: Identify and coordinate paddlefish and sturgeon research, management, culture and recovery programs.
Goal 5: Facilitate basin-wide conservation, protection, and restoration of paddlefish and sturgeon habitats.
Goal 6: Seek basin-wide consensus regarding paddlefish and sturgeon conservation and management through development of uniform, compatible regulations and policies.
Goal 7: Increase the public's (1) awareness of the existence of paddlefish and sturgeon species, (2) appreciation of the ecological and economic importance of these species, and (3) understanding of the environmental and human‑related impacts that threaten their welfare and continued existence.
In 1994 the Committee initiated a Basinwide Paddlefish Stock Assessment to document paddlefish stock size, movement, distribution and potential spawning sites. This effort involved the cooperative efforts and equipment sharing of 22 states, numerous colleges and universities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USGS Biological Services Division. This project involved marking tens of thousands of wild-caught paddlefish and more than a million of hatchery reared paddlefish fish with coded wire tags. Data collection and analysis continues, and a basinwide assessment in being prepared.
The Committee has also developed genetic guidelines for the stocking and release of paddlefish in the Basin.