Frequently referred to simply as "shad," this species is an anadromous member of the Clupeidae family of herring and shad and, it is highly regarded as a gamefish due to its strong fighting and jumping characteristics. American shad spawning runs provide a popular but seasonal sportfishery on both coasts of the United States, although these fish receive scant attention in Canada. The white, flaky flesh of this shad is full of bones but makes good table fare if prepared with patience and care; the scientific name sapidissima means "most delicious," an appropriate appellation for a fish that supports a considerable commercial fishery and whose roe is considered a delicacy and commands a premium price.
Other North American shad to which it is closely or distantly related include the smaller hickory shad, a western Atlantic species whose range overlaps with the American shad, and the Alabama shad of the Gulf Coast.
Identification. The laterally compressed, fairly deep body of the American shad is silvery white with some green to dark blue along the back, frequently with a metallic shine. The coloring darkens slightly when the fish enters freshwater to spawn. There is a large black spot directly behind the top of the gill cover, followed by several spots that become smaller and less distinct toward the tail; sometimes there are up to three rows of these dark spots, one under the other. The American shad has large, easily shed scales, as well as modified scales called scutes, which form a distinct ridge or cutting edge along the belly. It has a single dorsal fin in the middle of the back, the tail is deeply forked, and there are soft fin rays and long anal fins. It has weak teeth or no teeth at all.
Bearing a close resemblance to the hickory shad, the American shad is distinguished by the way its lower jaw fits easily into a deep, V-shaped notch under the upper jaw,
poor man's salmon, common shad, Atlantic shad, Connecticut River shad, North River shad, Potomac shad, Susquehanna shad, white shad, Delaware shad, alose; French: alose savoureuse.
Distribution. The endemic range of this species is east of the Appalachians along the Atlantic coast of North America from Sand Hill River, Labrador, to the St. Johns River, Florida; practically every significant coastal river along the western Atlantic seaboard has supported a distinct spawning population at one time or another. Important sport-fisheries currently exist in the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers. The Hudson River has historically had major runs, but sportfishing for shad in this deep, wide river is negligible, although it has in the past been commercially significant. The Susquehanna has been undergoing restoration of its runs. In 1871, American shad were introduced into the Sacramento River in California
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Shad, American (continued) and today are found up and down the Pacific coast, ranging from Bahia de Todos Santos in upper Baja California, Mexico, to Cook Inlet, Alaska, and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Most sportfishing occurs in the U.S. portion of this range, and a major run occurs in the Columbia River.
Habitat. American shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, ascending coastal rivers to spawn. They are found in freshwater only during their spawning runs and cannot tolerate cold waters below 41°F. Predominant in more northerly climates, American shad engage in extensive and complex migrations throughout their range, relying on their acute sense of homing for navigation. In coastal rivers, they primarily inhabit deep runs and pools.
whereas the lower jaw of the hickory shad protrudes noticeably beyond the upper jaw.
Size/Age. The normal size of American shad is 2 to 5 pounds, but specimens weighing up to 8 pounds are not uncommon when fish are abundant. They reach a maximum of 2V2 feet and possibly 13V2 pounds. The all-tackle world record is an 11-pound, 4-ounce fish taken from Massachusetts waters in 1994. Although American shad can live to age 13, few live past age 7. Females (called roe fish or hens) grow more quickly and generally larger than males (called bucks).
Life history/Behavior. Most fish spawn for the first time when they weigh 3 to 5 pounds. Males reach sexual maturity at age 3 to 4, females at age 4 to 5. When water temperatures range from 41° to 73°F, the fish swim upriver and as far inland as 300 miles. Peak migrations occur when the water temperature is in the 50s. These migrations usually take place in April in southern rivers and through July in northern regions, even beginning as early as mid-November in Florida.
Most spawning activity takes place in deep areas with moderate to strong currents, particularly during the night, when water temperatures are in the mid-60s. A single female is accompanied by several males, swimming close to the surface and splashing and rolling as tens of thousands of eggs are laid. The nonadhesive eggs drift with the current, gradually sinking and then hatching from 3 to 12 days later. Post-spawning adults attempt to return to the sea after spawning; many die immediately after spawning, whereas others have been known to live long enough to spawn as many as seven times.
Food and feeding habits. American shad primarily feed on plankton, swimming with their mouths open and gill covers extended while straining the water; they also eat small crustaceans, insects, fish eggs, algae, and small fish. They cease feeding during upstream spawning migration but resume during their relatively quick downstream post-spawning migration.
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