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September 29, 2003
Shad Stockings in Schuylkill Beginning to Produce Results

Adult American shad returning to the Schuylkill River in the spring of 2003 most likely originated as juvenile shad stocked there three and four years earlier as part of a restoration program, biologists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have confirmed.

The PFBC recently completed an analysis of adult shad collected from the river earlier this spring by fishery workers from the Philadelphia Water Department and a private consultant, Normandeau Associates. Of the 24 American shad analyzed at the PFBC's Benner Spring Fish Research Station, all were found to have chemical tags indicating that they had been stocked by the Commission in the Schuylkill in either 1999 or 2000.

The PFBC began stocking the Schuylkill River with young American shad, called fry, in 1999.  Since then, an average of 500,000 fry have been stocked each year.  Eggs for the program were obtained from adults collected in the Delaware River and transported to the Van Dyke Hatchery in Juniata County, where the fry were reared for 10 to 30 days.  All of the stocked fry were tagged with a chemical tag to distinguish them from shad naturally produced in the wild.  Shad fry, as young as three days of age, are immersed in a tetracycline solution that is absorbed into growing bone tissue. At this early age, the otolith, or earstone, is the only true bone present in the fish. All other bones, still in their early stages of development, are comprised of cartilage. The otoliths grow by adding rings, similar to the rings in tree trunks, except that one ring is laid down each day.

 Using specially equipped microscopes, researchers are later able to detect the chemical tag in the otolith of adults and determine if the fish entering the river as part of their spawning migration originated from a hatchery or in the wild. Biologists are also able to confirm the age of the fish because unique tag sequences are applied from year to year. Fifteen of the fish collected from the Schuylkill River this spring were age four, including 14 males and one female.  The other nine fish were age 3 males, a surprising result since few male shad were previously thought to mature as early as three years of age. 

The American shad is the largest member of the herring family. Adults commonly reach four to eight pounds. Shad spend most of their life in the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn. Each spring, adult shad migrate into coastal rivers from Florida to Newfoundland. Spawning takes place around dusk at water temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees. A single female shad can produce up to 600,000 eggs, but most average 250,000 eggs.

The American shad played an important part in the history of the United States. It is said that General George Washington's troops subsisted on salted shad from the Delaware River during that long, cold Valley Forge winter in 1776.  However, by the late 19th century, pollution and man-made obstacles - primarily dams - blocked American shad from many of their historic spawning grounds.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is a national leader in restoring American shad to their natal waters.  The restoration effort on the Susquehanna River and its tributaries is the largest such project of its kind.  Recently, increased efforts are being focused on tributaries to the Delaware River, such as the Lehigh and Schuylkill rivers.

Fairmount Dam is the first of 10 dams blocking migration on the Schuylkill River.  Fairmount Dam has a fish ladder in place, but it is old and somewhat ineffective at passing shad.  The Philadelphia Water Department is replacing the old ladder with a more modern design that should be completed by spring of 2005. 

The state's Department of Environmental Protection owns the next two dams, Flat Rock and Plymouth Dams.  A fish ladder is scheduled to be installed at Flat Rock Dam and Plymouth Dam is naturally breaching itself and will eventually be removed. 

Exelon Energy has agreed to build fish ladders at the next two upriver dams: Norristown and Black Rock dams.  The next pair of dams, Vincent and Felix Dams, are both breaching naturally and will be removed by DEP, eventually re-opening nearly 100 miles of habitat to migratory fish.

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