Thousands of shad fry, each no larger than a drop in a bucket, were released into the Lehigh River as part of a shad restoration partnership between the Carbon County Environmental Education Center and the Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association.
On Thursday, May 3, Jeanne Carl of the Carbon County Environmental Education Center released three buckets containing about 1,800 shad fry into the Lehigh River at the East Penn Township boat launch. The parent fish had been caught the previous Saturday. About 3,000 eggs were removed from a female, fertilized with semen from a male, and transported to the center on Monday.
At the CCEEC, the eggs were placed in the hatching tank where they were kept at 72°F until they hatched on Wednesday.
"The eggs that have not been fertilized died off," said Carl, a naturalist at the CCEEC. "We just picked off the live eggs and threw out the dead eggs. We could see the young in the eggs so we knew which ones to pick.
Shad have had spring runs up the rivers along the Eastern seaboard from time immemorial. Once there were millions of shad running, but because of dams, pollution, overfishing and habitat loss, their numbers are down. Lehigh River shad have been gone for nearly two centuries.
In the spring, shad are born in freshwater rivers and streams. They imprint to the location where they were born. In the fall, they migrate to the Atlantic Ocean where they spend five years growing to maturity. Then, they begin a migration that can take over four months and cover hundreds of miles to return to their birth stream. Because they mature in the ocean, shad are considered to be generally free of toxic chemicals.
Shad have returned to the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers. On the Delaware River, they have been caught as far north as Easton. There has been less success on the Lehigh River, where a series of dams, many going back to the days when they were required for the navigation of coal boats, even those with fish ladders, have blocked the migration of the shad.
The Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have been working to increase the number of shad in the rivers.
Carl belongs to the Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association, and she and her husband began catching Shad on the Delaware River at Lambertville on March 17. She said that it was unusually early for the shad run normally she would expect to see it in mid-to late April. It was about five weeks early, probably due to the warm spring.
The Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association is working with a dozen schools in its hatching program. Because she is a member of the association, Carl was able to get them to work with the CCEEC.
A mature American Shad at 5 years of age, can weigh up to six pounds and be 24 inches long. Shad are the largest member of the herring family.
Like salmon, they mature in the ocean and return to the rivers to spawn.
The American shad is considered by many to be a tasty, although boney, fish.
"Its biological name, Alosa sapidissima," explained Bernie Bast of the DRSFA, "means most delicious fish."
On the other hand, Carl feels that it's not a good-tasting fish.
"It's a musky or muddy-tasting fish," she said. "It's not light and flaky like a flounder. On the other hand, roe are very good. I fry them with onion and green pepper. Anything tastes good like that.
"It was an exciting project watching them hatch," Carl said. "I realized there was movement in the eggs and I could see tiny fish twitching in there. It's amazing that something that small and fragile could survive in the wild and grow into a 24-inch fish."