Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
Photo of American shad viewed through a window at the Holyoke Dam - Photo credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo of American shad viewed through a window at the Holyoke Dam. Credit: USFWS

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The American shad (Alosa sapidissima), the largest of the herring family, is a favorite Connecticut River sportfish. American shad are silvery with coloration shading from bluish dorsally to white ventrally. They have a deeply forked tail. They are delicate, readily experiencing scale loss and torn mouths when caught by anglers. American shad may reach lengths of 24 inches and usually weigh 4 to 7 pounds, females typically being larger than the males.

American Shad - Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
American Shad. Credit: USFWS

Life History

American shad are anadromous, migrating from the ocean to freshwater specifically to reproduce. Adult shad enter the river in the spring, generally reaching the Holyoke Dam (southern Massachusetts, 86 miles upstream) in late April to early June. Male (buck) shad tend to precede the female (roe) shad. Spawning occurs in the Connecticut River mainstem and its larger tributaries in the spring. Juveniles remain in spawning areas until their seaward migration in the fall.


The historic range of American shad was from the St. Lawrence River to Florida. Shad are still distributed throughout their historic range but shad are concentrated in east coast rivers between Connecticut and North Carolina. American shad are native to the Connecticut River watershed, where they currently reach as far north as the impoundment above Bellows Falls Dam (175 miles upstream). Bellows Falls is believed to be the historic upstream limit of American shad prior to the construction of dams on the Connecticut River.


American shad populations used to be greatly affected by pollution and dams. But in the thirty years since the restoration program began, American shad populations have increased dramatically: from 16,000 in 1967 to 300,000 in 1997 (counted at the Holyoke Dam--see Migratory Fish Return Numbers). The American shad is a very popular game fish and is also important commercially. Its Latin name means "delicious," and both its flesh and its eggs (roe) are eaten.

Restoration Efforts

The American shad is a Federal trust fish, meaning that the Federal government has some responsibility for its recovery. The American shad is protected under the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act. Restoration efforts are underway in rivers from Maine to Virginia. Objectives of national restoration efforts include restoring runs to 7-9 million shad and restoring hundreds of miles of spawning habitat. In the Connecticut River basin, restoration is a cooperative effort between the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other Federal agencies, State fish and wildlife departments in the watershed, private organizations, and industry. Management practices include providing access to habitat by building fish passage facilities.

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Last updated: September 7, 2010
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