Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shad and the Delaware River

The Delaware River still has plenty of life, according to the results of the 2014 annual Seine Survey.

The list leader is the American shad, but the biologists netted 45,178 fish in 284 hauls over five months. Also present are Blueback herring, White perch, Eastern silvery minnow, Atlantic menhaden, Bay anchovy, Banded killifish, Spottail shiner, Striped bass and Atlantic silverside.

Rivers are often endangered too and the Delaware River 75 years ago was considered "grossly polluted." Improvement began after the passage of the Federal Clean Water Act in 1972 and in the next two decades results could be seen in catches of once non-existent striped bass catches in the river "were at a much higher level than previous years. This showed that the striped bass population was rebounding, and water quality was beginning to improve."

Every year American shad migrate up the Delaware River to spawn. The numbers and timing of the "shad run" vary year to year depending on water temperature and conditions. Having accurate, up-to-date information on the run can greatly impact on angling success and enjoyment. Fortunately, there are resources anglers can use to get this information.

In 2013, American shad fisheries (both commercial and recreational), in both marine and fresh waters, with the exception of the Delaware Bay, Delaware River and its tributaries, were closed (no possession, take or harvest). The recreational possession limit in the Delaware Bay, River and its tributaries was 3 fish with no minimum size and an open season all year. Commercial net regulations for American shad remained the same.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission management plan was made for American shad and river herring due to concerns about the significant coastwide decline of American shad stocks.

The American Shad (Alosa sapidissima AKA white shad) is the largest of the river herring family.  American shad average around 3 lbs., with fish up to 5 lbs. common. Silver-sided with greenish-blue back; deep bodied from the side, narrow and symmetrical top to bottom head-on; row of dark spots on the sides, running back from the gill cover; the upper and lower jaws are equal length when the mouth is closed.

Lambertville, New Jersey holds a Shad Festival each spring. For 2015, the 34th annual Shad Festival will be April 25 & 26 . It includes arts and crafts, food, including shad prepared a variety of ways - from smoked to shad and shrimp fritters. Of course, visitors also learn about this migratory fish.

Today, only one commercial fishery remains on the non-tidal portion of the Delaware. A pollution block at Philadelphia slowly led to the closure of the fisheries, because it stopped the shad from moving up the Delaware.

One reason the festival was started was to celebrate the return of the shad to the Delaware. Native Americans taught the settlers how to catch the shad in pens, which later evolved to seining. Shad was an important food source to Native Americans and settlers, and an important industry for many decades on the Delaware River.

The NJDEP posts Shad Fishing Reports for 2015 at

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