American Shad, Alosa sapidissima
American shad are distributed along North America’s east coast from southern Canada to central Florida. American shad are anadromous, meaning they move from the sea to freshwater rivers to spawn. Specifically, they spawn in freshwater rivers of the east coast and then migrate to the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They spend 4 to 5 years of their life growing and maturing in large schools in the North Atlantic. By spring, adults can be found migrating into freshwater rivers in search of spawning grounds.
At the turn of the 20th century, American shad landings topped the United States’ list of most harvested fish by pound. In South Carolina, both a substantial commercial and recreational fishery remains for the shad. In the spring, commercial fisherman target migrating shad using gill nets while recreational anglers catch them with hook and line. Female shad are prized for their eggs or roe; however the flesh of both males and females is often consumed. American shad populations have dwindled in some rivers as a result of intense fishing pressure, habitat degradation, and pollution.
Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery is located near several rivers with historically abundant shad populations. Recently, American shad populations in the South Edisto River have been declining at an alarming rate which has created concern for both local fishermen and state biologists, who manage the waters.
In 2007, Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery (BBNFH) partnered with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in a new stock enhancement project aimed at restoring American shad to the South Edisto River.
In the spring of 2008, BBNFH biologists produced approximately 10,000 American shad fry from wild caught adults taken from rivers with healthy populations. These fish served as surrogates to field test equipment and techniques prior to working with the less abundant adult population found in the South Edisto River. Biologists now collect adult American shad from the South Edisto River and spawn them on an annual basis. Fry produced are chemically marked and returned to the river as part of a long-term stock enhancement program. Additional efforts are focused on estimating juvenile survival, identifying spawning habitat, and evaluating the contribution of hatchery produced fish to the wild population.