The American Shad Season

By: Cooper Breeden, Stewardship Intern

What better way to have welcomed spring than with the arrival of American shad! Shad are an anadromous species, meaning they live in the oceans and migrate into freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. Other well known anadromous species include Striped Bass and Salmon.  After spawning, adult shad return to the ocean and the juveniles remain in the freshwater until autumn when they swim to the ocean where they will live for a few years until mature. Shad begin their migration once the river temperatures reach the mid-50s, which typically happens sometime at the end of March. This year the winter was unusually long, so the shad run did not begin until mid April.

Historically, American shad were an important fishery in the region. It was an important source of food for Native Americans and there are even accounts of the fishery being an important provision for George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War. However, the population size is just a fraction of what it used to be. By the end of the 1800's, shad harvest had already experienced a steep decline due to overfishing, and the situation only became more bleak throughout the 1900's until the fisheries were closed in the 80's and 90's. To make matters worse, dams and other road blockages now prevent the passage of fish to their historical spawning grounds and pollution from erosion and runoff in rural and urban areas adversely effect the water quality.

But there's hope for the shad! State and federal agencies, nonprofits, and concerned individuals are all working together to help the populations recover. Harvest restrictions on shad have been in place since the 90s in most areas in the region. There are several hatcheries that raise young shad and stock them in various locations through the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Additionally, there are efforts to remove dams that block shad and other anadromous fish migration. In cases, where dams cannot be removed, there are other passageways that allow migratory fish to navigate around a dam.

As for AWS's involvement in shad restoration, we partner with Living Classrooms, the Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), and local schools in DC, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County. Students and teachers from these schools put together shad tanks and then go out with local watermen and the ICPRB to collect shad eggs. The eggs are placed in the tanks that students assembled and the young fry are released into the Anacostia a few weeks later.




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