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American shad return to the Delaware River after journey at sea

May 16, 2014

REGION — The spring run of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is now working its way up 330-mile main stem of the Delaware River in a timeless ritual in which these ocean-going fish return to their natal fresh waters to spawn.

These fish are key components of an age-old cycle of biomass interchange between the river and the ocean. In the free-flowing Delaware, such cycles that have occurred for thousands of years are still relatively intact, contributing to ecological integrity that is exceptional among the large river systems of the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S.

Historically, the Delaware had the largest annual commercial shad harvest of any river on the Atlantic Coast. In the late 1890s, American shad harvest estimates on the Delaware ranged up to 19 million pounds, or approximately five to six million fish. And those harvested fish were only a fraction of the total run.

For an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this migration, some good Delaware River viewing locations include the pedestrian walkways on the Matamoras, PA/Port Jervis, NY (Route 6/209) Bridge, the Damascus, PA/Cochecton, NY (Rte 371/114) Bridge, or the Callicoon Bridge. Look for fish about 20 inches long, and gray in color against the darker riverbed background, moving upstream.

[For more about shad fishing and for an interview with shad fisherman Len Caputi, see the summer issue of Upper Delaware Magazine, inserted in this week’s paper and on newsstands all summer.]