- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Virginia released nearly 16 million American shad fry in four river systems this spring, the largest release in a 14-year program to restore the silvery fish that played a big role in the nation’s history.

“It’s the best year we’ve had,” said Tom Gunter, a fisheries biologist who heads the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ shad-restoration program.

The spring release of 15,854,860 fry was conducted in the James, Pamunkey, Rappahannock and Potomac river systems. Last year, 11.4 million shad fry were released. The inaugural effort in 1992 totaled 52,000 shad larvae in the James River.

The program, Mr. Gunter said, has paid dividends: shad stocked in the James are now returning each year to spawn. He said he is optimistic that shad can be restored in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

Once a staple of Colonial America’s fishing industry, shad sustained a profitable fishery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon on the Potomac River.

In recent times, however, shad have fallen victim to overfishing and pollution. The fish was harmed by the construction of dams that cut off annual spawning runs from miles of spawning grounds.

The Chesapeake Bay-area harvest plunged from around 16 million pounds a year in the late 1800s to a few thousand pounds in the late 1980s.

Virginia closed its bay waters to shad fishing in 1993 and expanded the moratorium last year to its offshore waters in the Atlantic Ocean.

Eleven watermen are under contract to net spawning shad in the Pamunkey and Potomac rivers, Mr. Gunter said. Eggs and sperm are collected from the fish and mixed to produce the shad fry at the department’s fish hatchery in King and Queen County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s hatchery at Harrison Lake in Charles City.

The baby shad are 21 days old when they are released, making them less vulnerable to predators.

“They’re bigger and they’ve already started feeding,” Mr. Gunter said. “That gives them a jump start.”

The Mattaponi Indians and the Pamunkey Indians also produce shad fry at hatcheries on their reservations in King William County.

Each tribe has been generating between 3 million and 6 million shad fry for years, for release into the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers.

The removal of Embrey Dam at Fredericksburg in 2003 reopened 106 miles of shad spawning habitat on the Rappahannock, Mr. Gunter said.

It costs about $250,000 a year to run the restoration program. Mr. Gunter said the prospects for improved angling make it worth it.

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