- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

JARRETTSVILLE, Md. — One day they will be 2 feet long with silver scales, but for the moment these American shad are less than a half-inch long, barely visible in water except for tiny black dots for eyes.

They have been raised from larvae over the past two weeks by children from five Maryland schools as part of an American shad restoration project that takes shad from classroom aquarium tanks to a stream that leads to the Chesapeake Bay.

Yesterday was graduation day for the fish. Many of the 5,000 shad sent to the science classrooms already had died — an unavoidable occurrence, biologists said — and even fewer will survive to adulthood.

The lucky ones will grow to about 20 inches, migrating south to the Susquehanna River and then the Chesapeake Bay. Then they will spend three to five years in the Atlantic Ocean before returning to this same Harford County stream to spawn.

“They’re littler than I thought,” said Ryan Burton, 13, a seventh-grader at North Harford Middle School who helped raise that school’s shad in his science class.

The task was intensive. Students and their teachers had to monitor the water to make sure it was the right temperature and had the correct balance of chemicals. They also had to raise brine shrimp to feed the shad. It wasn’t easy, said Emily Anderson, 17, a senior at Bel Air High School.

“A lot of our fish died. To start out we had, like, 1,000. Now we have, what, 25? 30?” said Emily, who wants to study marine biology in college.

Before dunking the shad from plastic bags into a creek at Rocks State Park, the 200 or so science students recounted everything they had learned about shad.

For example, American shad were a staple of the early American diet, feeding Revolutionary War troops and George Washington, but overfishing and habitat loss nearly wiped out American shad in the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland has banned commercial and recreational fishing of the silvery shad since 1980, but still the population is far below historical levels.

“In Maryland they used to land millions of shad a year. And now the whole population is less than a million,” said Bob Sadzinski, who leads the program called Shad School for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The student shad program may have a negligible effect on the population, both because shad mortality was high and because the state already raises up to 3 million baby shad, called fry, and releases them. But Mr. Sadzinski said the educational component is arguably more important than raising the fish.

Students study about the shad life cycle before getting their fish. They dissect fish and visit the Conowingo Dam to learn about how man-made structures have interrupted the spawning of many species.

The teachers learned more about shad, too, said environmental science teacher Sharyn Denbow. She resorted to a turkey baster and panty hose to strain brine shrimp for the shad to eat, and she came in on weekends because the shad needed feeding three times a day, but she said the project was worth it.

“They learn biology, water chemistry, ecology — it’s very cross-curricular stuff,” said Miss Denbow, who teaches at C. Milton Wright High School in Harford County.

Peering into a cooler that held her class shad, though, Miss Denbow quipped, “When we put ‘em in here, they were alive.”

Student Victoria Schuler, 12, said she would be happy if just one shad fish released yesterday ended up back in Harford County to spawn in a few years.

“It’s good we’re doing this, putting them back where they belong,” said Victoria, a seventh-grader at North Harford Middle School.

“We’re helping out a whole species.”

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