Monday, April 15, 2013

A Time for Shad

A seasonal repost from this blog.

In my mind, the first week in April is always the start of the local shad run in the Potomac River just below my house.

The shad runs of my youth (not that long ago!) are somewhat reduced -- a function of too much commercial fishing and too much pollution.

In the Potomac, where I dip-netted shad two at a time just 35 years ago (and snag hooked them too, if truth be told), a shad fishing moratorium has been in effect since 1982.  Yes, that is a picture of me below and on the left, holding high the take back in the days of my criminal youth.

The good news is that there are small signs that shad stocks are rebuilding. While there is still too much silt in the river (a function of a thirty-five year construction boom in this area), the water itself is not as chemically polluted as it once was, and many of the smaller tributaries are being cleaned up by local conservation and beautification efforts.

Another bit of goods news is that a fish passage has been built at Little Falls, which is allowing shad to ascend the river to an area that had previously been blocked by a dam for more than 50 years. A million shad fry a year are now stocked in the river, and they are being released above the Falls so they will imprint and return to this upriver location, as well as below.

As a consequence of just this little bit of action, the number of adult American shad collected during the Spring brood-stock collection period has more than doubled. One-year-old shad are now far more numerous than they once were, and the size of the shad runs in the Potomac River appears to be growing.

All of this if good news, and not a minute too late. Mother Nature is as tough as an old tire, but it requires that we take our boot off her neck and give her half a chance to thrive.

In plain English, that boils down to habitat protection and respect for basic game laws, especially those that deal with endangered species or species that are declining in number. It also requires us to learn a little more about the environmental interconnections, and our part in shaping them.

America's wildlife and wild lands are the greatest legacy we can pass on to our children. I am happy to say that my generation will pass on most of our wildlife and our wild lands in better condition than we inherited them from our parents and grandparents.

Today we have more whitetail deer and bear in American than we did when I was a kid. We also have more beaver, buffalo, bald eagles, osprey, elk, moose, mountain lions, alligators, whales, falcons, wolves, and coyotes.

Only in the area of fish (both fresh water and salt water) have we failed to turn things around.

Support protection of watersheds and riparian areas. Stop eating fish that are bottom-trawled (that includes shrimp), and consider eating domestically farm-raised tilapia, trout and salmon instead. If you fish in the East or any other heavily-fished area of the U.S., practice catch-and-release fishing as much as possible. Reduce as many dams as possible to rubble.  Above all, demand cleaner water, from mountain headwaters to delta outflows.

Let's bring back the great salmon runs, the sharks, the blue fin and the sail fish, the crab and the paddle fish, bull trout, alligator gar, and the flathead. And let's bring back the shad. It's their turn now.

Bank-netting shad on the James River opposite Richmond, Virginia around the time of the Civil War.


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