Species At Risk


(Polyodon spathula)
Extirpated (no longer found in Ontario)


The Paddlefish is a thick, robust fish with a long, paddle-like snout called a rostrum, which may take up to half the length of the body. Like its close relative the Lake Sturgeon, its skin is smooth and without scales. This primitive species is one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America. Paddlefish can reach two metres or more in length and weigh more than 70 kilograms. Males reach sexual maturity after seven years, whereas females mature later at nine to 12 years.

Current Range

The current range of the Paddlefish is the Mississippi River system from Montana to Louisiana, and some smaller rivers draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

Historical Range in Ontario

The Paddlefish was likely never common in the Canadian portion of its range. There are only three verified reports of the species in Ontario waters – in Lake Huron (near Sarnia), the Spanish River and the Nipigon River, with the last specimen captured in Ontario in 1917.

Why It Disappeared from Ontario

It is not known what exactly led to its demise in Ontario, or the Great Lakes.

The Paddlefish has declined across its entire range, due largely to loss of spawning habitat and over-fishing. Like the sturgeon, the Paddlefish is valued for its roe which is processed into caviar, and a small commercial fishery still exists in some states. Because this fish matures so slowly, over-harvesting can quickly deplete a population. Other threats across the species range include dam construction which has blocked access to spawning sites, dredging of channels and pollution.


Paddlefish live in slow-moving sections of large rivers and lakes, but they migrate to large, fast flowing rivers with gravel bottoms to spawn. Females can lay more than 150,000 eggs, but they do not spawn every year.


Help Make Sure We Don’t Lose More Endangered Species in Ontario

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Paddlefish. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats. For more information visit: ontario.ca/speciesatrisk.
  • Volunteer with a local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Did you know?

Paddlefish have no teeth and eat by filtering zooplankton out of the water. They swim with their mouths open, filtering the water through gill arches in the mouth. The gill arches have filaments on them called gill rakers that sieve the zooplankton organisms from the water.

Did you know?

The Paddlefish is one of the most prehistoric fishes in Ontario, with fossil records dating back 70 to 75 million years ago.

Did you know?

The Paddlefish (and sturgeons) are closely related to sharks as they have a skeleton that is mostly cartilage rather than bone.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.