American Shad Monitoring Program
American shad (Alosa sapidissima) have played an important role in supporting recreational and commercial fisheries since colonial times. Native Americans and early settlers used shad as a major food supply. The Chesapeake Bay shad fishery became an important industry around the mid 1800's and developed greatly in following years. However, commercial landings of American shad in Virginia decreased from 11.5 million pounds in 1897 to less than a million pounds in 1982. Over-fishing, dam construction, pollution and loss of natural spawning grounds are a few factors that led to this decline.
Concern about the decrease in landings of American shad along the Atlantic coast prompted the development of an interstate fisheries management plan by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Program. The main focus of the plan is to regulate exploitation and enhance stock restoration efforts. A moratorium on the taking of American shad in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries was established by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on January 1, 1994. The prohibition applied to both recreational and commercial fishers. Immediately following the moratorium, there were no monitoring programs that provided assessment of stock recovery. A method of scientific monitoring was proposed to estimate catch rates relative to those recorded before the prohibition of in-river fishing in 1994. The American shad monitoring program began in 1998 and consisted of sampling techniques and locations that were consistent with and directly comparable to historical logbook data collected by VIMS.
The monitoring program is the only direct method available to compare the size of spawning runs relative to decades prior to the moratorium. The program also provides information for evaluating the hatchery-based restoration program and validating the juvenile index of abundance.
The primary objectives of the monitoring program:
- Establish time series of relative abundance indices of adult American shad during the spawning runs in the James, York and Rappahannock rivers
- Relate contemporary indices of abundance of American shad to historical log-book data collected during the period 1980-1992 and older data if available
- Assess the relative contribution of hatchery-reared and released cohorts of American shad to adult stocks
- Relate recruitment indices (young-of-the-year index of abundance) of American shad to relative year-class strength and age-structure of spawning adults
- Determine the amount of by-catch of other species in the staked gill nets.
The American shad monitoring program is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission. The information collected by this program is reported annually to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and VMRC. The monitoring program and its annual report fulfill Virginia's Federal mandate to provide managers information to assess the status of American shad stocks. Monitoring data has also been used by the Chesapeake Bay Program of the Environmental Protection Agency in a revision of the annual on-line Chesapeake Bay Report. The American shad monitoring program has provided data used to form the basis for a coast-wide stock assessment for American shad as well as numerous reports, publications, theses and dissertations.