Shad: Our Pollution vs. Their Resolution.

Watercolor by Sherman F. Denton, 1904

Right now, Shad are starting to appear in rivers. A sure sign spring has sprung!

The Shad is a remarkable fish with a rich history (as told by John McPhee in The Founding Fish) and impressive ecological link. Like the Salmon, it is anadromous and migrates from its salt water ocean home to fresh river waters to spawn. The Shad’s oscillating presence in the rivers reflects the health of the water. No Shad? That’s Bad. It means our (drinking!) water is polluted and the Shad took a pass. Fortunately, citizen science and other efforts are underway to keep rivers clean.

I can’t explain it but I feel connected to the Shad. Sport fishers love the challenge of hooking one, culinary enthusiasts whip up shad roe delights, environmentalists measure their own efforts by the Shad’s changing presence and Shad Fest revelers…well, they just like a good party.

Perhaps I’m just envious of the shad’s focus and resolution.

While I was watching Desperate Housewives, getting pedicures and sipping lattes, the Shad was fighting for its life during a hundred-mile or so migration from the ocean to the river. It lost about 30% of its body weight in the process. (Sounds like it was worth the trip.) It laid its eggs, spawning a new generation of Shad, turned around and headed home. Done.

I will not let the shad out-do me again. I am determined to finish Chapter 12 of my Integrated Chinese workbook before that same over-achieving Shad returns next April. I will keep you posted, xie xie, ni.

In the interim, here’s a short, shad_radio_piece featured on DiscoverMagazine.com that tells the unique story of the Shad. I’m narrating this piece and wrote the script. Christoph Gelfand of Poultry Productions, Stefan Frank and Corey Powell produced it.

  • http://www.debbieandfriends.net Debbie Cavalier

    I LOVE the shad piece! What a fun educational story. Thanks for making important information like this accessible to your readers. I look forward to reading more!

  • http://www.debbieandfriends.net Debbie Cavalier

    I LOVE the shad piece! What a fun educational story. Thanks for making important information like this accessible to your readers. I look forward to reading more!

  • Emma

    The Shad need a home too! The shad we’re here before us (I think). I know we need the good water but they need a home. It is like someone taking our homes away. Where would we go, where will the shad go. We have to give them their home!

  • Emma

    The Shad need a home too! The shad we’re here before us (I think). I know we need the good water but they need a home. It is like someone taking our homes away. Where would we go, where will the shad go. We have to give them their home!

  • Marty Seldon

    Please dont forget about shad on the West Coast:

    Shad come into the lower Delta and start to school up. Migration is dependent on water flow and temperature. As the water warms up they historically move up the Russian River first, and then up through the lower Sacramento where, as reported in March 1963 Outdoor California, anglers use “Shad Bumping” before they ascend the rivers.

    DF&G Studies in a 1979 Report estimated that just the Sacramento River watershed had populations of 1.48 million for 1976 and 2.33 million American Shad in 1977. They looked at historical records and estimated that 46 years after they were introduced that the commercial fishery varied from 5.7 million pounds in 1917 to 448,000 pounds in 1957 the last year of commercial fishing, with a 1-2 million pound/year average. Market price was responsible for the fluctuations and only a small percentage of the adult population was even caught. In 2005 almost 6 million shad entered the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border.

    In 1963 DF&G estimated that anglers spent 100,000 man-hours fishing for shad. This was confirmed in the 1965 California Fish and Wildlife Plan that reported shad migration in 1,120 miles of inland rivers and canals with major populations in the American, Yuba, and Feather Rivers and several north coastal streams where striped bass are not found. There are shad in San Luis Reservoir as well as Mendota Pool, Millerton and Mendota Reservoirs.

    In CDF&G’s 2000-2001 Stanislaus River Surveys they found American shad on three occasions in June through July at Lovers Leap. Shad were in schools of 20 or more and in faster water. CDF&G’s Delta Trawl Net Survey from September-December 2005 at Chipps Island, the period when 6-8 month yearlings would be migrating to the ocean, found that 89% (48,104) of the catch were American shad. CDF&G’s record was a 7 lb 5 oz American shad taken on the West Branch Feather River in 1985.

    California Regulations still allow: 5.65. Shad, American. (a) Open season: All year, except for closures listed under special regulations. (b) Limit: Twenty-five. (c) Methods of take: Shad may be taken only by angling, except that a dip net may be used in the Valley District

    The 2006 Cal Fed Attachment 3, Goal 3. Objective 2 stated: Maintain, to the extent consistent with ERP goals, fisheries for striped bass, American shad, signal crayfish, grass shrimp, and nonnative warmwater gamefishes.

    American shad (Alosa sapidissima) and striped bass (Morone saxatilis), the two non-native anadromous species identified for restoration by the CVPIA, were introduced into the Sacramento-San Joaquin system in the 1870s. Both species supported valuable sport and commercial fisheries throughout much of this century, but California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) data indicate that populations have declined since the mid-1960s. CVPIA Attachment 6, Table 2 reported that during the period 1994-2004 there was over a 50% decline from peak American Shad abundance.

    I can think of no greater indication of what the extremely excess export of our water has done to all anadromous fish. During the earlier years we had vast populations of shad, striped bass, salmon, and steelhead all living in harmony without the now prevalent politicians trying to reinvent historical comparisons that try to excuse rather than show the damage they have caused.

    Lets’ try to do more to stop the destruction. Skitt fiske!

    References:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/afrp/background.asp
    CVPIA 1994-2004 Attachment 6:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/erp/docs/reports_docs/Attachment_6.pdf
    F&WS Stockton Staff:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/usfws/staff.asp?prog=AFRP
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/usfws/staff.asp?prog=USFWS
    CDF&G Bay-Delta Staff:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/CVBDB/staff_directory.asp
    2005 Chips Island Trawl:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/jfmp/docs/wichman2006.pdf
    Stanislaus:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/srfg/docs/April2002finaldraft.pdf

  • Marty Seldon

    Please dont forget about shad on the West Coast:

    Shad come into the lower Delta and start to school up. Migration is dependent on water flow and temperature. As the water warms up they historically move up the Russian River first, and then up through the lower Sacramento where, as reported in March 1963 Outdoor California, anglers use “Shad Bumping” before they ascend the rivers.

    DF&G Studies in a 1979 Report estimated that just the Sacramento River watershed had populations of 1.48 million for 1976 and 2.33 million American Shad in 1977. They looked at historical records and estimated that 46 years after they were introduced that the commercial fishery varied from 5.7 million pounds in 1917 to 448,000 pounds in 1957 the last year of commercial fishing, with a 1-2 million pound/year average. Market price was responsible for the fluctuations and only a small percentage of the adult population was even caught. In 2005 almost 6 million shad entered the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border.

    In 1963 DF&G estimated that anglers spent 100,000 man-hours fishing for shad. This was confirmed in the 1965 California Fish and Wildlife Plan that reported shad migration in 1,120 miles of inland rivers and canals with major populations in the American, Yuba, and Feather Rivers and several north coastal streams where striped bass are not found. There are shad in San Luis Reservoir as well as Mendota Pool, Millerton and Mendota Reservoirs.

    In CDF&G’s 2000-2001 Stanislaus River Surveys they found American shad on three occasions in June through July at Lovers Leap. Shad were in schools of 20 or more and in faster water. CDF&G’s Delta Trawl Net Survey from September-December 2005 at Chipps Island, the period when 6-8 month yearlings would be migrating to the ocean, found that 89% (48,104) of the catch were American shad. CDF&G’s record was a 7 lb 5 oz American shad taken on the West Branch Feather River in 1985.

    California Regulations still allow: 5.65. Shad, American. (a) Open season: All year, except for closures listed under special regulations. (b) Limit: Twenty-five. (c) Methods of take: Shad may be taken only by angling, except that a dip net may be used in the Valley District

    The 2006 Cal Fed Attachment 3, Goal 3. Objective 2 stated: Maintain, to the extent consistent with ERP goals, fisheries for striped bass, American shad, signal crayfish, grass shrimp, and nonnative warmwater gamefishes.

    American shad (Alosa sapidissima) and striped bass (Morone saxatilis), the two non-native anadromous species identified for restoration by the CVPIA, were introduced into the Sacramento-San Joaquin system in the 1870s. Both species supported valuable sport and commercial fisheries throughout much of this century, but California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) data indicate that populations have declined since the mid-1960s. CVPIA Attachment 6, Table 2 reported that during the period 1994-2004 there was over a 50% decline from peak American Shad abundance.

    I can think of no greater indication of what the extremely excess export of our water has done to all anadromous fish. During the earlier years we had vast populations of shad, striped bass, salmon, and steelhead all living in harmony without the now prevalent politicians trying to reinvent historical comparisons that try to excuse rather than show the damage they have caused.

    Lets’ try to do more to stop the destruction. Skitt fiske!

    References:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/afrp/background.asp
    CVPIA 1994-2004 Attachment 6:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/erp/docs/reports_docs/Attachment_6.pdf
    F&WS Stockton Staff:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/usfws/staff.asp?prog=AFRP
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/usfws/staff.asp?prog=USFWS
    CDF&G Bay-Delta Staff:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/CVBDB/staff_directory.asp
    2005 Chips Island Trawl:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/jfmp/docs/wichman2006.pdf
    Stanislaus:
    http://www.delta.dfg.ca.gov/srfg/docs/April2002finaldraft.pdf

  • Ted

    Wonderful piece on shad. Further up the Delaware beyond the Schuylkill, there was a really lively shad fishing scene in the 1980s. The banks of the river were crowded with fishermen at dawn and again at dusk around good spots like the mouth of the Bushkill Creek and Shad Rock below it. Boats vied for position in the current. Lines got tangled as the cry “fish on!” rang up and down the bank. There were large fish, up to 8 pounds, and one commonly caught 6 or more in a couple of hours. Farther upstream, toward Callicoon, where you can wade in the dropping waters of May, the excitement was even greater on the fly rod (with many fewer fishermen).

    Shad fishing still goes on, but it has dropped significantly over the last 15 years. 2007 for some reason was a markedly better year, at least in the fly-fishing stretch of the river. This season was another low one with few fish caught by very few fishermen. One is usually alone on the banks today and I’ve seen no boats.

    The run is very sensitive to water flow and temperature. This season, for instance, we had a very dry spring, so less flow to draw them up river at the start of the run, and then very cool temperatures through May, which damps down the “bite.” May also brought rain so the run moved on up, and waters dropped at the end of the month to enable about two weeks of good fly-fishing. But then the heat wave shut us down. When the water temperature gets above 72F for an extended period, they spawn out and lose any interest in eating. Then the carcasses litter the banks and you know it’s done. (BTW, the idea that shad do not eat on their run is nonsense. Their stomachs often contain the small crustaceans that shad darts imitate.)

    There are lots of theories about the declining runs in the Delaware and Connecticut (where I also fly-fish for them) including the resurgence of the striped bass, which love to feast on shad in the mouths of the rivers and await the hatched-out fry on the trip out to sea. The Clean Water Act worked wonders, and we need to keep vigilant about the cleanliness of our rivers. But there’s a lot more going on in population dynamics than human pollution.

  • Ted

    Wonderful piece on shad. Further up the Delaware beyond the Schuylkill, there was a really lively shad fishing scene in the 1980s. The banks of the river were crowded with fishermen at dawn and again at dusk around good spots like the mouth of the Bushkill Creek and Shad Rock below it. Boats vied for position in the current. Lines got tangled as the cry “fish on!” rang up and down the bank. There were large fish, up to 8 pounds, and one commonly caught 6 or more in a couple of hours. Farther upstream, toward Callicoon, where you can wade in the dropping waters of May, the excitement was even greater on the fly rod (with many fewer fishermen).

    Shad fishing still goes on, but it has dropped significantly over the last 15 years. 2007 for some reason was a markedly better year, at least in the fly-fishing stretch of the river. This season was another low one with few fish caught by very few fishermen. One is usually alone on the banks today and I’ve seen no boats.

    The run is very sensitive to water flow and temperature. This season, for instance, we had a very dry spring, so less flow to draw them up river at the start of the run, and then very cool temperatures through May, which damps down the “bite.” May also brought rain so the run moved on up, and waters dropped at the end of the month to enable about two weeks of good fly-fishing. But then the heat wave shut us down. When the water temperature gets above 72F for an extended period, they spawn out and lose any interest in eating. Then the carcasses litter the banks and you know it’s done. (BTW, the idea that shad do not eat on their run is nonsense. Their stomachs often contain the small crustaceans that shad darts imitate.)

    There are lots of theories about the declining runs in the Delaware and Connecticut (where I also fly-fish for them) including the resurgence of the striped bass, which love to feast on shad in the mouths of the rivers and await the hatched-out fry on the trip out to sea. The Clean Water Act worked wonders, and we need to keep vigilant about the cleanliness of our rivers. But there’s a lot more going on in population dynamics than human pollution.

  • Jay

    Hi,

    1. Is chad an oily fish?
    2. Like salmon, does chad live in saltwater (sea/bay) but swim upstream to freshwater (river) to spawn?

    Thank you.

  • Jay

    Hi,

    1. Is chad an oily fish?
    2. Like salmon, does chad live in saltwater (sea/bay) but swim upstream to freshwater (river) to spawn?

    Thank you.

  • http://www.sciencecheerleader.com Darlene

    Jay: Shad’s an oily fish (in terms of other fish I’ve eaten). And yes, just like the salmon, the shad, leaves the ocean and swims upstream through rivers to spawn. Then they return back to the oceans. I’m taking my family shad fishing this year for the first time. Head it’s pretty challenging and rewarding.

  • http://www.sciencecheerleader.com Darlene

    Jay: Shad’s an oily fish (in terms of other fish I’ve eaten). And yes, just like the salmon, the shad, leaves the ocean and swims upstream through rivers to spawn. Then they return back to the oceans. I’m taking my family shad fishing this year for the first time. Head it’s pretty challenging and rewarding.

  • Don

    Your take on a lot more going on with shad says a lot. As mentioned Striped Bass (at least in the Conn. River) are up in force unlike anything you would see years back. I believe often times the fish we protect often become major predators of shad & blueback herring. Stripers, Dolphin and others are voracious eaters….no wonder the shad fishing has declined. Some would like to lay the blame on Power Plants but I say look out to the sea

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