"A distinctly American version of the salty delicacy prized for centuries by Russian czars gets its start each May in the cool waters where the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers converge, the same spot where explorers Lewis and Clark camped two centuries ago," Scheyder writes. "As paddlefish, one of North America's largest freshwater fish, make their way north to spawn, their eggs, or roe, are processed at the water's edge to make more than 2,000 pounds of caviar prized by clients from Tokyo to Toronto to New York."
North Dakota only allows 1,000 to be caught each year, mainly because overfishing has led the population to drop by 50 percent since the 1970s to 50,000, Scheyder writes. "After the paddlefish are weighed and measured (a typical 70 pound female can be at least 20 percent roe), they are sent up a small conveyor into a structure where three sterilized rooms handle three stages in the caviar process: gutting; cleaning and salting; and canning. Only about 50 pounds is sold retail."
North Dakota isn't the only state harvesting paddlefish eggs. Paddlefish also are found in the Mississippi River, where researchers are fitting them with transmitters to track where they swim, reports the Star Tribune. Paddlefish are also found throughout the U.S. in places such as the Grand River in Oklahoma, in the Missouri River in Montana and in lakes throughout Missouri.