Shad Spawning in Northern New England Streams

The Annual Migration & Reproduction of the American Shad

Spawning American Shad in New England WaterwaysAlthough the American Shad spends most of its life at sea, northern populations of this fish swim upstream every spring to spawn in freshwater outlets. Most adult Shad weigh anywhere between 3 and 8 pounds. Although these members of the herring species can be cooked several different ways and have a delicate flavor, the most revered part of Shad is the roe. Long considered a delicacy, Shad roe is high in Omega 3, containing nearly twice as much as wild salmon. To feature your business, please contact us.

New England Fish Migration: Shad

Boating Sailing Marinas Docks Bays Boat Charters Maine New Hampshire VermontEvery spring Northern New England witnesses the return of a long-time seasonal visitor, the American Shad. Technically the Shad are returning “home”, although this fish spends most its life in the ocean.

The Shad have been spawning in New England streams, rivers, and brooks since before the white man, probably before the native Americans as well. The Indians celebrated the arrival of the Shad and the fish were an important part of their diet.

In Colonial times the fish were an important commercial resource. The shad were caught (primarily by net) and salted, stored and sold. Today, the Shad run goes pretty much unnoticed. The adult shad make their annual migratory run up the major rivers of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine and travel to the smaller brooks and streams to spawn.

How these 12-24 inch fish make it past the natural and man-made obstacles like falls, dams and bridges is an amazing fete in itself. They somehow remember their place of birth and try to return to allow the life-cycle to continue.

Shad are in the herring family of fish, which includes alewives. The scientific name is Alosa sapidissima, meaning “most delicious.” These migratory, schooling fish are found in off-shore waters from the St. Lawrence River to northern Florida.

The American Shad is an Anadromous Fish, that is it spends its life in salt water but returns to fresh water to reproduce. A male shad is called a Buck, a female shade is called a Roe. Female Shad can live up to 10 years.

Unlike Salmon, which lay their eggs in nests (called Redd), the female Shad release their eggs in open water, males release milt which fertilizes the eggs. This “open-water” spawning technique is one of the reasons why the shad have survived and thrived while salmon have declined in population.

Fertilized Shad eggs drift downstream for six to ten days before hatching. They are an important food source for other fish during this time. After hatching, the immature fish (called “fry”) will stay in the fresh or brackish (a mix of fresh and salt) water until the fall when a small percentage of the young Shad finally reach the ocean.

Once in the ocean, Shad form schools and begin a three to five year migration pattern in the Atlantic. They feed on plankton and smaller fish. When they reach maturity, they will attempt to return to their home stream or brook to begin the life cycle again.

Description of Shad
In the ocean Shad are a metallic green to blue/green, and the sides are silver to white on the belly. When the fish enter fresh water to spawn, these colors darken. There is a ridge of sharp scales on the belly called scutes, which are a distinguishing feature of this fish. Shad look similar to carp. Along each shoulder there is a row of dark spots, usually with one large and several smaller ones. The body has a compressed, or flattened, shape, and the tail is deeply forked. The average weight of adult shad is between 3 to 6 pounds. Adult shad can reach up to 30 inches in length, the average is 12 to 24 inches.


The Shad Bush

The Shad Bush, also known as the Downy Serviceberry, or June-berry Bush (Amelanchier canadensis). This bush, which is one of the first to bloom in the spring. It is called the Shad Bush because it is in bloom when the shad are running in New England rivers and streams.

The plant features white blooms in spring, and yellow – red foliage in the fall. The red berries are edible, and are a favorite food for many birds.

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