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Swimming Upstream

Shad come 77 stream miles closer to spawning headwaters

Tank-raised American shad along with cleaner waterways have helped improve the fish’s numbers. <<photo courtesy of USFWS >>

American shad, once plentiful in the Bay and its tributaries, are inching back thanks to a combination of restoration efforts in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
    Water quality improvements, harvest moratoriums, stocking efforts and the 2015 opening of 77 additional stream miles have all contributed to the resurgence.
    Improving fish passage allows migratory species to swim from the salty ocean waters to freshwater rivers to spawn. In the latest Bay Barometer, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual assessment of its restoration efforts, the program announced 817 additional miles of streams have been restored since 2012, bringing the program closer to achieving the mandated 2025 target of 1,000 miles of water open to migratory fish.
    Our Bay watershed is home to several fish species that need to move between the ocean and freshwater rivers. These anadromous fish have long been a major resource to communities along their routes.
    Both American Indians and early European settlers depended on annual shad runs. The shad numbers dropped as dams and roads went in, blocking and destroying river habitat.
    Removing dams or installing lifts or fish ladders reopens the river habitat so the fish can swim farther upstream where they can spawn.
    “People around the Bay should be concerned about American shad for the same reason they should be concerned about all fish and aquatic life — all life really,” says Jim Thompson of Maryland Department of Natural Resources’s fish passage program. “Each species plays an important part in the food web and circle of life.”
    Between 2000 and 2014, American shad increased from 11 percent to 44 percent of the target, due in large part to rises in the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. There’s more opportunity in the James, Susquehanna and York rivers, which have had consistently low spawning stocks.