Shad set spawning record in the Potomac River

Potomac stands in contrast to other Bay rivers that saw little to no gains

Photo by David Harp ( Bay Journal ).

Photo by David Harp (Bay Journal).


More good news for the Potomac's American shad.

Spawning shad set another record in the river this spring, surpassing restoration goals for the sixth consecutive year.

The Potomac River is leading the way for restoration efforts that are struggling elsewhere around the Chesapeake Bay and along the East Coast, the Bay Journal reports. It's a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year. 

Both the James and York rivers in Virginia saw record lows this year, and the Susquehanna, the Bay's largest tributary, only saw small gains.

To make matters worse, because the shad runs were low, stocking programs will also fall short of goals. The overall number of juvenile shad stocked in Bay rivers is likely the lowest since major restoration efforts started in the 1990s. Despite the Potomac's record year, scientists struggled to catch enough shad to supply the stocking programs of other rivers.

Experts are not sure exactly why the Potomac is faring better than other Bay rivers, but improvements in water quality, a resurgence in underwater grass beds, and the moratoriums on shad harvest are believed to be driving some of the success.

The latest State of the Nation's River Report, released this spring, noted that rebounding fisheries signal overall improvement in the Potomac. 

"Fish are good indicator species for the overall health of the river because they are impacted by a host of environmental factors," the report states. "Some fish species continue to struggle, but long-term trends signal that we’re beginning to reap the benefits of pollution-reduction and restoration efforts."

Shad once supported the highest-dollar commercial fishery in the area but pollution, dams, and overfishing have left populations dwindling. Like other species of river herring, shad spend most of their life at sea, but return to rivers in the spring to spawn. 

The silver fish are popular with local anglers; catch and release is permitted, though harvesting the fish has been banned since 1980.

Read more about American shad and the health of the Potomac's fisheries in the State of the Nation's River Report >


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