Ancient surprise lurks in Bluff Lake

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Researchers from the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge and Mississippi State University recently found an unexpectedly high number of paddlefish in Bluff Lake.

Initially, researchers thought the fish traveled through the spillway from the Tennessee Tombigbee waterway but later found the some-200 paddlefish are year-round residents of Bluff Lake.

"We thought they would use the area during the high-flow times like April and May, and come the summer they'ed disappear," Reagan said.

The large population surprised researchers in relation to the size of Bluff Lake's spillway and what is known about paddlefish, Refuge Executive Director Steve Reagan said.

The full-scale investigation is part of a three-year plan to study the water system at Bluff Lake. The fish will be tracked, monitored for spawning and population density levels to determine if changes need to be made to the spillway to better accommodate the large numbers of filter-feeders.

"It was pretty astounding," MSU assistant wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture professor Michael Colvin said. "They can grow to over five feet long, so it was fairly dramatic to see these giant, prehistoric fish come out of that small area."

These ancient fish can be traced back to the late Cretaceous—around 70 million years ago—and American paddlefish are native to the Mississippi River Basin.

For more, see the July 26 edition.