Woods & Wa­ter

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By Ken Sim­mers

Amer­i­can shad, al­most a fish of the past

In Colo­nial Amer­ica and for many years fol­low­ing, Amer­i­can shad were table­fare for the best of us. Now, how­ever, peo­ple look down on them and rarely eat them. When we do have them for din­ner, it is ei­ther at a restau­rant or in Delaware, where it is still le­gal to catch and keep them. Mary­land, though, for­bids us to keep shad. It’s a cry­ing shame, too, for shad have white, flaky flesh that is firm and mild to the taste.

Shad seem to be sur­rounded in mys­tery, from the mo­ment they en­ter our waters un­til they leave. Why do they strike a shad dart? They don’t eat once they set out to spawn, so why hit a dart, even though it is their name­sake?

A sec­ond bit of mys­tery is in their very ap­pear­ance, or lack of it. Nor­mally, they en­ter our waters in late March to early April and stay un­til mid-May. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton was very happy to see them in the win­ter of Val­ley Forge, since his men were starv­ing. That year shad came to the Delaware River in win­ter, sav­ing the Con­ti­nen­tal Army from more hunger than they could with­stand. Iron­i­cally, Bri­tish troops had set fish traps to catch them, but our army saw fit to dis­man­tle them and build their own traps.

Shad were a main­stay of our di­ets even through the De­pres­sion; busi­nesses were de­pen­dent upon them. A small army of men were es­tab­lished on the shores of the Susque­hanna, haul­ing in tons of shad each day. Fam­i­lies salted them down and had them for din­ner through­out the sum­mer.

Dams have stopped the spawn­ing runs. Along with over­fish­ing and pol­lu­tion the num­bers of shad have dropped tremen­dously.

In 1972 a fish lift was built by the Conowingo Dam; fish were lifted, counted, and trans­ported to Pa. where they sup­pos­edly spawned and re­turned to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. Nice theory, but it doesn’t hold wa­ter.

In 2001 the count of shad amounted to 193,000. That was nowhere near the orig­i­nal num­ber, but it was sus­tain­able. This year’s run is about over. It is 11,163 as of this Tues­day. The low­est in recorded his­tory was last year: 8,341.

At one of our MSSA meet­ings, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Ex­elon did an ex­cel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion on what and how shad were trans­ported. They are caught in the two fish lifts, put on­board trucks, and trans­ported to Pa.

Do they spawn? No. Do most of them make it back to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. Ab­so­lutely not. Ac­cord­ing to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive, 93 per­cent die; only about 3 per­cent make it back.

In other words, it’s a guar­an­teed fail­ure op­er­a­tion. How­ever, it is gov­ern­ment funded, so it will con­tinue.

Are there other op­tions? Of course. First, fish­er­men could be al­lowed to keep one or two. Sec­ond, they could be trans­ported to Ox­ford, Md., where shad re­search is be­ing done. Third, they could be trans­ported to the Delaware River, where it is still le­gal to keep a few fish each day. How­ever, this will not be the case. Tax­pay­ers will con­tinue to pay for a fail­ing pro­gram.

At least we have rain

Yep, we have rain. Lots of other states don’t, so I guess we should look on the bright side of things. Plenty of this rain has been “tomato rain,” per­fect to grow to­ma­toes and flow­ers. So when we get sun­shine ex­pect to see to­ma­toes on steroids. Un­til that time, hope for warmer weather.

Phil John­son, owner of Wal­nut Springs Farm, says he has plenty of big straw­ber­ries, but they are all green. Not enough warmth to turn them yet. Things will change, I’m pretty sure.

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