Credit: Paul Irish


American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
of the
Hudson River




I.                    Characteristics

a.       Largest of New York's herring

b.      Sometimes referred to as white shad

c.       Latin name means "most delicious"

d.      Scales are Green/Blue/Brown along back and silver belly; shed easily

e.       Typical adult physical measurements:

i.      Length - 30 inches

ii.      Weight - 5 to 6 pounds

iii.      Males (bucks) are generally smaller than females (roe - refers to both females and their valuable eggs)

II.                 Life History

a.       Anadromous - born in freshwater, but live in ocean and return to river of origin to spawn

b.      River specific in that each returns to its own river and don't change rivers

c.       Lifespan - 5 to 7 years

d.      Food

i.      Adults

1.      Zooplankton

2.      Smaller fish

ii.      Juveniles

1.      Zooplankton

2.      Copods

3.      Insect larva

4.      Small crustaceans

5.      Smaller fish

III.               Reproduction

a.       Sexual maturity

i.      Female - 4 to 6 years

ii.      Male - 3 to 5 years

b.      Shad run aka "lilac shad" due to the time of year when lilacs are in bloom

c.       Spawning details

i.      Mid-March to late-May from Kingston northward

ii.      At favorable temperatures in low 60oF

iii.      Males arrive before females

iv.      Most vigorous spawning between sunset and midnight

v.      Eggs

1.      Females lay up to 600,000 eggs

2.      Many males fertilize

3.      Fertilized eggs are carried by the current, though many roll around the bottom and are eaten by predators

4.      1/10 to 2/10 inch in diameter

5.      Transparent, but range from pale pink to amber

6.      Hatch in 4 to 12 days (water temperature dependent) and larvae are approximately 10 mm long

vi.      Juveniles

1.      Spend first summer in freshwater, then migrate to brine

2.      Live 3 to 6 years in the ocean

3.      Most susceptible to death at this period; 70% die

vii.      Sexually mature - return to the same water in which they hatched via smell, though not many repeated spawners, as they generally live through only one spawning cycle once they have reached sexual maturity

IV.              Historical value

a.       Important for food - meat and roe - since pre-colonial times (Indians ate)

b.      Most important commercial fish in the Hudson River

c.       Hudson known as one of the most productive rivers of shad in North America (New York leads in-river commercial shad fishing)

d.      "In point of commerce, the Hudson is the most important river of the United States, and formerly its shad fisheries were the most valuable on the Atlantic seaboard..." Stevenson in 1896.

e.       Shad are referenced in various historical works and even paintings from the Hudson River School (mid-1800's)




V.                 Decline - turbulent history of decline and abundance

a.       Colonial times

i.      Extremely abundant

ii.      Fed General George Washington's troops at Valley Forge (not Hudson, but Delaware River)

b.      Mid 1800's

i.      Relative decline

ii.      Pollution

1.      Increase in settling of area(s)

2.      Overfishing

3.      Mills dammed river

c.       Late 1800's - shad revived, but unknown why

d.      Modern times

i.      1916 - decline - worst ever

ii.      Late 1920's and 1930's - numbers increased

iii.      1942 - peak shad caught

iv.      1960 to present - decrease in numbers

e.       Factors of Decline - greatly debated and no definitive answer(s)

i.      Water quality

1.      Pollutants including sewage, textile dyes, and garbage

2.      Natural contaminants - erosion due to farming, etc...

3.      Water temperatures

4.      Oxygen content

5.      pH

ii.      Predators

iii.      Ship traffic

iv.      Over fishing

v.      Dredging

vi.      Damming - habitat loss (Ex: Dam at Troy)

vii.      Water quality and damming are agreed upon by most

f.        Prior Attempts Of Saving Shad

i.      1868 - New York Fish Commission - artificial propagation operation

ii.      1896 - Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission suggested lift nets for two consecutive days and three nights per week to 'run'

iii.      1908 - State law - requires nets be taken out sunset Thursday through Monday sunrise

iv.      1944 - last 'batch' of hatchery raised shad released into Hudson

g.       Shad Today

i.      Solving the Current Problems - goal: self-sustaining runs of shad

1.      May work itself out - many fisherman (commercial) have given up on shad due to economic reasons

2.      Fishing regulations

3.      Establishment of hatcheries

4.      Improve water quality

5.      Reopening spawning grounds via fish passages - around damns

6.      Educate the public of the problem and how to fix it; work together

7.      Governmental intervention

a.        Fishery Management Plan for American Shad and River Herring (1985) and Amendment 1 and Technical Addendum I - regulation and monitoring plan of shad and their environment

b.      New York State Pure Waters Bond Act (1965) - reduce pollution by treating wastewater prior to river release

c.       Anadromous Fish Conservation Act (last amended 1996) - restoration of runs and spawning grounds

d.      American Shad Tagging Program (1995- present) - study shad patterns to develop strategies for successful stocks in the future

e.       Various other programs to protect and reopen spawning grounds and maintain healthy water quality

ii.      Human Consumption

1.      Only fish not banned from commercial fishing in Hudson

a.       Don't spend enough time in Hudson for PCB's to accumulate, so safe to eat fish and roe

b.      Still, child-bearing age women and children are not to eat them

2.      Shad Festival

a.       Yearly celebration of Hudson River Shad (in Kingston)

b.      -Meals to commemorate rich shad history - Gourmet Society of Culinary Institute of America makes shad dishes

3.      Male vs. female for taste

a.       Females - fatter and larger

b.      Roe, the eggs, a delicacy

c.       Males - more flavorful; testicles poached

VI.              Fun facts

a.       Shad from Hudson River were stocked in California by request

b.      Seth Green of NY was the first person to artificially hatch shad, and established the Castleton on Hudson hatchery

VII.            Historical accounts of shad

a.       "Reflections of a Shad Fisherman" http://www.hudsonriver.com/halfmoonpress/stories/0698lett.htm

b.      "The Hudson River Shad" http://www.ulster.net/~hrmm/museum/shad/boyle6.html

c.       "The Silverbacks Are Running" http://www.ulster.net/~hrmm/diglib/carmer/chapter31.html

d.      "Shad Fishing On The Hudson"

e.       "Anadromous Fish of the Hudson River" http://library.marist.edu/diglib/EnvSci/archives/fisherie/nyhudsonrvalley/fw-appendixi.html

f.        Portrait of Seth Green's Shad Hatchery on the Hudson