AMERICAN SHAD NUMBERS ON THREE RIVERS
ARE RANGING FROM RECORD-BREAKING TO ENCOURAGING
July 18, 2001
The American shad, once among the most plentiful fish in the Chesapeake Bay but reduced to a commercial and recreational anglers’ moratorium in Maryland in 1980 and in Virginia in 1994, is showing indications of an impressive comeback in at least three major rivers.
Dick St. Pierre, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish coordinator based in Pennsylvania, said that all prior records for the number of American shad passing Susquehanna River dams in eastern Pennsylvania have already been broken.
Albert Spells, the Service’s Virginia Fishery Coordinator and manager of the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Charles City, Va., said preliminary signs on the Maryland side of the Potomac River are also up.
Last year, biologists from the Service, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources captured three American shad in the Great Falls region during a fish passage and hatchery product evaluation project. Great Falls is the historical limit of the shad’s Potomac River migration. This year, 15 shad were captured at the same Great Falls location. The shad’s return to Great Falls was made possible by a fishway built at Little Falls on the Potomac River in 2000.
“We’re making some real headway,” said Spells. “We anticipate that many of the fish we’ll see at Great Falls later this year will be hatchery-released fish.” Biologists will be able to determine if the shad are hatchery or wild fish by looking for flourescent markings left on shad larvae in the hatchery.
Meanwhile, Spells pointed to a record take of shad eggs on the Pamunkey River, a yearly project that engages the Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in a shad restoration program on the James River in Virginia.
Pamunkey fish are the broodstock that provide the eggs that are in turn taken to Harrison Lake and state facilities where they are reared for eventual release back to the wild. The project is conducted in accordance with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission genetic guidelines, which requires management agencies to seek suitable broodfish sources from within a respective river. If an adequate egg source cannot be found from within a target waterway, another may be sought from a neighboring river. The Pamunkey is the neighboring river to the James in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
St. Pierre said low water levels on the Susquehanna and cool temperatures during the month of May combined to push shad passage to levels impressively above those of 1999 and 2000, and in at least one instance, more than doubling the count at three of the four dams.
At Boshers Dam, where the Service and nearly two dozen other federal, state and civic partners pooled their resources to build a passageway just three years ago, the number of shad counted near the Richmond site went from just 16 in 1999 to 375 just a year ago.
The passage program, which relies heavily on partnerships in both the public and private sectors, seeks to restore the waterways to historic spawning grounds by notching, eliminating or building passageways around small, older dams that are particularly common in the eastern United States. Many of the dams date to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, when countless rivers were blocked in pursuit of water power. Since 1993, state and federal partners working with the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program have completed more than 100 fish passage and dam removal projects in the Chesapeake watershed, opening more than 900 miles of blocked tributary waters to migratory fish.
The American shad was once among the most plentiful fish in the Chesapeake, until overfishing and habitat degradation and fragmentation pushed the species into decline.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.
It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.