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American Shad Restoration on the Susquehanna River

spawning American shad

The Susquehanna River was once the Chesapeake Bay's most important river for spawning shad. The Pennsylvania canal system, built in the 1830s, restricted migration to the lower 45 miles of the river. Later, four hydroelectric dams eliminated all shad runs in Pennsylvania.

Early attempts at creating fish passage, or fish-ways, around dams failed. Resource managers attempted to restore shad stocks by releasing hatchery-reared shad into rivers but had no success.

In 1991, a fish lift was put into place to move migrating fish to the top of the Conowingo Dam, near the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Throughout the watershed, other barriers have been removed or modified, opening spawning areas to shad and other migratory fish. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is working to reintroduce hatchery reared shad into these newly opened spawning grounds.

As partners in the shad restoration program, the Maryland Fishery Resources Office (MFRO) obtains fertilized American shad eggs from shad netted in the Potomac River. Eggs are removed from female shad by strip spawning and fertilized using milt from males. Fertilized eggs are then delivered to Van Dyke Hatchery in Juniata County, PA where they are hatched and raised until they are of size to be stocked into the Susquehanna River.

The Susquehanna River shad restoration program has seen dramatic increases in the number of adult spawners returning to the river each year (5,000 in 1985 - 200,000 in 2001). However, in recent years declines have been reported in the Susquehanna River shad population and the 2007 American Shad Stock Assessment found that coastwide stocks are at all-time lows and don't appear to be recovering.

Cooperation between federal and state agencies, private businesses and individuals is key to successful restoration of shad and other living resources. Biologists will continue to take steps to conserve American shad to improve commercial and recreational fisheries now and for future generations.

Last updated: January 30, 2013
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