Connecticut River shad crash [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Connecticut River shad crash

Dble Haul
06-13-2005, 11:08 AM
From the Hartford Courant:

River Shad Migration Plummets
Fish Counts May Be Smallest In 30 Years
June 11, 2005
By STEVE GRANT, Courant Staff Writer Numbers of American shad migrating up the Connecticut River to spawn this spring have crashed, with the run likely to be the smallest in three decades.

American shad are iconic in Connecticut, officially designated as the state fish, and prized both by anglers and diners.

So far the number of shad counted at a fish passageway at the Holyoke Dam totals only 109,596, the smallest number since at least 1976, when improvements were made at the dam and modern record keeping began. A count of several hundred thousand fish has been more typical over the years. In 1992, it was 720,000.

"If it's not the lowest, it's darn close," said Thomas Savoy, senior fisheries biologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection. "The only caveat is, that it isn't over yet."

Shad, which typically weigh 3 to 5 pounds, are still migrating up the river in small numbers as the run comes to an end, and the total fish count is likely to rise, but not substantially.

"I've been sport fishing for 40 years ... and it is the worst run I've experienced," said George Bernard, co-founder of the Haddam Shad Museum. "The situation is very bad."

The cause of the decline is not known for certain - and because shad spend much of their lives at sea, many factors could be involved - but some biologists strongly suspect that predation by striped bass is taking a big toll.

"I'm one of those guys blaming the striped bass for the last 10 years," Savoy said. "I'm not changing my tune."

Striped bass populations along the East Coast have grown rapidly since strict conservation measures were imposed in the 1980s, when bass populations crashed. Striped bass are a salt water species that can comfortably enter fresh water to feed. They do so in the Connecticut.

Savoy said the bass are likely to have been in the Connecticut River for many decades, but their numbers have soared over the past decade. They are so abundant in the Connecticut now that they have become a hugely popular sport species in the river.

"Certainly the striped bass can have an influence," said Bill Hyatt, director of inland fisheries for the DEP.

Savoy said the striped bass feed not only on smaller male adult shad, some weighing only 2 pounds, but also on young shad just heading out to sea for the first time.

Another possible factor was the weather this year. Cold and stormy weather in April and May delayed the shad run, and now, with hot weather suddenly arrived, river temperatures are rising rapidly, making for unusual conditions for the shad.


Remember a few years ago when the stripers were blamed for the decline of herring stocks? Looks like some people are now blaming them for the shad decline.

Hey, if the stocks of normal prey (read: menhaden) keep taking hits like they have for many years, the stripers are naturally going to find another source of food to make up the difference. I think the real problem here is the management of the stipers' natural forage base.

06-13-2005, 12:02 PM
Totally agree on the management issue.

Also, let's not forget, as in the case of Herring, Stripers are not the only predators who have enjoyed a big rise in numbers over recent years.

Seals consume huge numbers of fish including shad and I believe their populations have increased in recent years also. With the depletion of a major forage species, several classes of predators have to look for alternative food sources.

It really concerns me when someone in a senior position at DEP makes a (apparently unqualified) gut-feel statement about why the 'natural order' has been upset without some scientific evidence to back it up. That's almost as bad as me leaping to the conclusion that the report is an underhand tactic by the commercial sector to lift the limits on Striper harvest. :tsk_tsk:

By the way, I am a big supporter of CT DEP - I think they do a terrific job with very limited resources.

06-14-2005, 06:47 AM
Mark. The Hickory Shad may have also declined or are arriving late. Caught some
off the back side of Napatree Point last weekend but they have not arrived in the large numbers I've seen in the past in the Mystic River system here in Ct.. For those interested, we'll have three, small Shad Claves when they are here in full force along with the cows. This secret spot can only hold two or three anglers at a time. This is your big chance to try out those big shad flies tied over the winter.


06-14-2005, 07:28 AM
As you can see buy my sign in name "Shadfreak" I am a Shad lover. I am also a Striper and Bluefish lover. I am not a fisheries biologist but I did work as an interpreter at the Robert E Barrett Fishway in Holyoke for five years and have learned more about Shad than the average fisheries grad student.

Blaming Stripers for the low Shad numbers is rather ridiculous if we consider that Shad, Striped Bass, and to some extent Bluefish have co-existed in the Connecticut River since the last ice age. Also there are historic references of Shad and Stripers in the same areas that we can't even imagine today. Do Stripers eat Shad? Without question but so does everything that feeds on fish. Just look at the greater numbers of Cormorants, Gulls, and other fish eating birds. I think that the Shad's spawning ability can keep up with natural predation and we need to look at other factors for the answer of their lower numbers.

Shad swim on a predictable migration pattern that should be investigated for an intercept fishery. One or two container ship can obliterate a particulars rivers stock in a day. The food sources in the Shad's winter and summer feeding areas may be in decline for whatever reason. Are the ocean temperatures along the Shadís migration route changing or are the general ph levels in the spawning rivers getting beyond the range viable for successful spawning. These are just a few of the thousand questions that should be answered before the Striper gets blamed.

The fish counts for Shad in the Connecticut River are based on fish passing the Holyoke Dam. Shad are broadcast spawners and are capable of spawning in the lower river (between Holyoke and the ocean) if they need to. This ability is what allowed them to survive in the Connecticut River before there was fish passage. Because this was such a cold spring and then instant heat many fish probably never made it to the preferred upriver spawning sites. Unlike Salmon, which wonít spawn under those conditions, the Shad can spawn in the main stem.

Sorry if I got off on a tear but it just frosts me when educated people point their finger at the easiest possible answer and treat it like itís law.

Dble Haul
06-14-2005, 08:25 AM
Adrian- Good points about the increase in numbers of other predators.

Phil- FWIW, the hickory shad numbers in Niantic last year were a bit off, and they aren't really in high gear yet this year, so perhaps the issue isn't just confined to Mystic. Not that that's what you're implying, but your comments made me reflect on areas that I fish myself.

Larry- Don't apologize for fuming.....I'm doing a bit of that myself. :wink:

Good points made by all.