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In addition to bass and crappie, Justin Wilkens, North Mississippi Fish Hatchery manager is working with paddlefish these days. Says Wilkens, “These paddlefish are offspring of fish collected from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.” Paddlefish were formerly common in the Tombigbee River but after construction of the waterway their range and population declined. Adult fish were collected from the waterway by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and transported back to Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery, Tupelo, MS. There the eggs were collected and incubated. The newly hatched fish were stocked into ponds at Tupelo, and also sent to USFWS hatchery in Louisiana. After reaching 3 inches some of the Louisiana fingerlings were transported to the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery at Enid for final grow-out in 80 ft raceways. Wilkens explains, “The fish are fed a high protein diet 16 hours per day 7 days per week and will grow about an inch a week. We expect them to be 12 inches long by the end of June. At that time they will be transported back to Tupelo and receive a coded micro wire tag. The tag is smaller than a human eye lash and will be injected into the paddle of the fish. It contains a code that identifies what hatchery grew the fish, how big the fish when it was stocked and where it was stocked. After tagging the fish will be stocked in the Tenn-Tom Waterway.” Over the next several years biologist will look for hatchery raised fish by sampling the waterway with gill nets and use a special scanner to detect tags. If a tag is found it will be removed without harming the fish, brought back to the lab and a microscope will be used to read it. This information is used to track paddlefish growth and determine if the stocking was successful.

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