Friday, April 08, 2005

The Shad Count: 194,300 So Far

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service counts anadromous fish on the Connecticut River and apparently updates it frequently.

As of two days ago, 194,300 American shad had already ascended the Connecticut River into Massachusetts and beyond this year. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service counts them and posts new numbers frequently here. The numbers of alewives and blueback herring are far, far lower, but I think that’s because the F&WS counters are further upstream than alewives travel and because the blueback herring season is generally later.

If you click around this site, you’ll find interesting maps of the Connecticut watershed that show how far up each species travels.

It’s interesting to note that the F&WS counted only 256 striped bass. In the Hudson, the commercial shad fishery has essentially ended because stripers are so numerous that they fill the fishermen’s nets. I don’t know if the commercial shad fishery in the Connecticut is thriving, but it’s certainly not dead. The Connecticut DEP says that commercial fishermen on the Connecticut River have taken from 32,000 to 118,000 fish a year over the last decade.

Looking back to yesterday’s post about the gustatory pleasures of various parts of the alewife, a friend of mine notes that no matter how subtle and delicate the flavor of alewives testes, you’re likely to need a whole lot of them to make a meal.

3:30 p.m. Update: Martha McCormick Smith, at Yale, was quick to tell me that the taste of alewives and blueback herring doesn’t mean much these days because it’s illegal to take them in Connecticut – and has been since 2002. She sent me a link to this advisory.

So my speculation above that the numbers of alewives and blueback herring were low because of where the counting took place was wrong. The blueback herring count reached a high of 650,000 at Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1985, and was above 100,000 every year from 1980 through 1993.

In 2002 and 203, the blueback numbers were 1,900 and 1,300. This page, which has historical numbers, doesn’t include alewives, though.

4:20 p.m. Update: This is more interesting than I thought. The DEP advisory that I linked to above speculates that the population of river herring might be dropping because striped bass, which prey on the smaller fish, are so abundant. Here’s what Bob Boyle wrote about stripers and alewives in his Hudson River book.

Sometime in mid-April stripers move into the Croton. Ravenous, they gorge themselves on the alewives, swallowing them whole. The bass chase the herring in towards the shore, they attack from underneath in the pools, they surge after them in the rapids. A pool in the Croton is sometimes alive with swirling bass seeking their prey. (Page 234).

On the Hudson, commercial fishing for striped bass (Hudson River fishermen pronounce it stripe-id bass, but I have no idea why) has been banned since the mid-1970s because of PCB contamination. Since then the spawning success has been spectacular. I have to assume that the situation on the Connecticut is similar.


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