American Shad Restoration Program - Charles River Watershed Association

About the American Shad

American Shad Restoration Program - Charles River Watershed Association

Larry Lofton, the North Attleborough National Fish Hatchery manager, with full-sized American shad. Photo credit: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

One of the largest members of the herring family, American shad can reach up to 30 inches in length and weigh 7-8 pounds.  The shad is one of five species of anadromous (fish born in freshwater) fish found in the Charles River. American shad spend the majority of their lives in the ocean, and return to their native freshwater to spawn.

Shad were plentiful in the Charles until the mid-1800s, and some historical records identify shad in the Charles as early as 1633. After 1850, the population began to decline due to the construction of dams and the degradation of water quality.

Based on CRWA’s target fish community work in the past decade, the Charles should support a large, viable shad population of up to 30,000 adult fish, however, only small numbers of adult shad are observed in the river each year. To help restore the shad population to pre-development levels, CRWA embarked on a collaborative project with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS) in 2006. The program aims to restore a viable population of American shad in the Charles, improve the ecological health of the river by introducing a native species, and create a local sport fishery for anglers.

The Return of the American Shad in the Charles

American Shad Restoration Program - Charles River Watershed Association
Bob Zimmerman, Wendi Weber of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Mary Griffin of the Dept. of Fish & Game, release shad into the Charles. Photo credit: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Shad larvae are sourced from adult shad found in the Merrimack River near the Essex Dam in Lawrence, MA, and then raised at the US FWS hatchery in Nashua, NH. These juvenile shad, or shad fry, are then marked, using a special bath, so they can later be identified and tracked when they return to the Charles to spawn.

Since 2006, over 26 million shad larvae have been released into the Charles River. Since 2011, American shad released as part of this program have returned each year to the Charles River to spawn. Improved tracking techniques currently utilized by MA DMF and US FWS are beginning to provide a fuller picture of the challenges facing the American shad in the Charles River. 

In addition to the American Shad, other herring including Alewife and Blueback, are returning to the Charles River in large numbers. The Charles River now supports one of the largest Blueback herring runs in Massachusetts.

To learn more about CRWA's American Shad Restoration Program, view the videos below:

American shad release, July 2013

Fish passage at Watertown Dam
Free Charles River Fsh Guide

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Lisa Kumpf
Lisa Kumpf
Aquatic Scientist
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