Elms Environmental Education Center

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May 2016: American Shad

American Shad


American Shad
Alosa sapidissima

Who am I?

 I am fish. I am an anadromous fish which just means that I spend most of my life in saltwater. Not all of it, however. every spring when the water begins to warm I head upstream into fresher and fresher water until I am way up in the streams where I will lay my eggs. This assumes that the humans have not built dams or other obstructions that would keep me from getting upstream. Time once was when my friends and i would swim up all the rivers on the east coast of North America. Now there are only a few places left. Once I have made it upstream I will lay a few hundred thousand eggs. My eggs will drift downstream and hatch within a couple of weeks My babies will spend their first year in these freshwater streams before heading out to the ocean where we all overwinter. A few years later I will head back upstream to where I was born to lay my own eggs.

Where can you find me?

 We are found everywhere from Canada to North Carolina, breeding in the freshwater rivers along the coast and spending our winters in the Atlantic between Maryland and North Carolina.

What do I eat?

 When I am a small fry, baby, I will eat mostly small animals that live in freshwater streams, like copepods and other zooplankton. As an adult I will continue to eat plankton but will also eat small crustaceans and fish.

What might eat me?

 Most of the bigger fish in the ocean will eat me. Sharks, dolphin, tuna and mackerel are among the fish I worry most about. In the Chesapeake I am a favorite meal of striped bass and the american eel.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • In the Chesapeake only the Patuxent, Nanticoke and Susquehanna rivers remain as viable breeding grounds for shad.
  • I was once the most sought after finfish, not only in the Bay, but throughout the east coast of North America.
  • If I am breeding in the southern part of the United States I may only breed once before dying. Further north I may have the chance to return to my birth home many times before dying.
  • The oldest shad found in Maryland was 11 years old.
  • The biggest shad ever recorded was 2 1/2 feet long.

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