North Dakota and Montana have similar programs. Commercial fishing for paddlefish is allowed in seven states, but was banned in Oklahoma in 1992 to protect the population. Since then, the population in Grand Lake has more than doubled, with stricter harvest restrictions and increased law enforcement on illegal netters. So why should the state be allowed to process the eggs from a natural resource and sell caviar when its citizens cannot? Gordon said one commercial fisherman would decimate Oklahoma's population of paddlefish. And the state Wildlife Department only is going to harvest eggs from paddlefish legally caught by anglers. State wildlife officials are not going to kill paddlefish to produce more caviar. The money earned from the sales will go back into paddlefish management and law enforcement. In addition to making a few bucks from the caviar, the project also will allow researchers to collect valuable data on the species, Gordon said. Some data cannot be gathered without sampling large numbers of fish, he said. "Quite frankly, I can't get this information any other way, and it pays for itself,” Gordon said. "This is a fiscally sound and biologically viable effort. It's good for the fish, good for anglers and good for the wildlife department. "The bottom line is that this center will lead to better managed fish populations and improved fishing opportunities for anglers.” If the pilot project is successful, state wildlife officials plan to expand it to other lakes where snagging for paddlefish is popular, such as Keystone and Fort Gibson.
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Paddlefish caviarPaddlefish eggs are made into caviar through a salting process. The production process is very secretive and state wildlife officials plan to hire consultants in the industry to train them in processing the eggs. The state Wildlife Department initially will sell its caviar only to wholesalers, but may create its own Oklahoma brand of paddlefish caviar to retail in the future. From staff reports