Regulators plan to halve the number of Shad anglers can keep
by Fred J. Aun Saturday March 14, 2009, 8:08 PM
Concerned about decreasing numbers of fish seen in the annual migration of shad up the Delaware River, wildlife conservation officials from New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania are planning to halve the number of shad that anglers can keep.
The proposed regulation change would go into effect in 2010, said state Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Boriek. The plan is to reduce to three, from the current six, the daily bag limit. The state Fish and Game Council has endorsed the proposal and is putting it up for public comment.
In a sense, the effort is more symbolic than truly meaningful. That's because few shad anglers keep the fish they catch anyway. Shad, while enjoyed as food by some, aren't at the top of very many anglers' lists of favorite dinner fare.
Boriek conceded the bag limit reduction is "more a sociological thing" than a scientific measure designed to increase the shad population.
"It's just to let people know they're important," he said. "Not too many people keep them anymore, but a couple people I talked with, some guides on the river, thought it was a good idea. It's mainly to give the fish more respect and make people aware of their importance and that they are declining."
Shad numbers have gone up and down over the years. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the shad numbers were "pretty paltry," Boriek said. For example, one survey estimated only about 130,000 fish did the spawning run in 1980.
But by the mid-1990s, shad were booming with numbers in the 500,000 range. For some reason, a decline took place as that decade ended. By 2007, the last time the state used sonar equipment to count shad, about 181,000 fish were tallied.
Nothing is definite, but one theory for the decline blames the phenomenon on a corresponding increase in the number of striped bass, which feed on young shad.
"You couldn't find a striper in the Delaware in the '80s," said Boriek. "There were closures and moratoriums on catching them for years. They rebounded beyond anybody's expectations. In the early '90s, the stripers started to show up as a big force."
Boriek noted that other factors might be at play in the shad's current troubles.
"Nobody is actually sure," he said. "Shad are kind of a fragile fish. They're kind of skittish. As soon as they spawn, every predator in the river is after them, and they must survive in the ocean for three to six years before they're sexually mature."
He also said the shad decline might be due to a lack of food or some other factor.
"They are very vulnerable to all kinds of environmental conditions," he noted.