Friday, June 15, 2018

Shad in the Hudson

Commercial fishing for shad in the Hudson River was banned in 2009, because the shad population was dangerously low. Since then, efforts to save the shad have not succeeded in significantly increasing the shad population. In light of the current plight of shad in the Hudson, the following item, discovered in the Columbia Republican for June 11, 1918, reporting about shad in the Hudson a hundred years ago, is curiously interesting.


1 comment:

  1. In the mid-19th c., T.R.'s somewhat bohemian and contrarian uncle Robert B. Roosevelt led the call for the management of the nation's fish stocks. Later in the century he headed the New York State Fish Commission (for twenty years), and successfully lobbied NY State legislators to enact numerous laws protecting shad among other species. By regulating mesh size and establishing catch limits, Hudson River shad were seen to rebound.

    It was likely thanks to Robert Roosevelt that Hudson River catch data for shad began to be collected, apparently starting in 1880. According to State and Federal agencies, that year saw a river-wide catch of 2.75 million lbs. By 1889, the same year Hudson's "fish markets" (Furgary) first appeared on the Sanborn fire insurance maps, the total river-wide catch of shad was 4.3 million lbs., which remains the greatest recorded catch to date.

    Unfortunately shad data is sparse after that, but what information there is reflects a population decrease until the bottom nearly drops out in 1915, '16, and '17, the last two of these years yielding about 40,000 lbs. each.

    Local fishermen could not have predicted an uptick in 1918, which saw a river-wide catch of 230,000 lbs. The following year the catch was even greater, at about 333,000 lbs.

    The shad's long cycles of booms and busts were likely due to overfishing, which may especially harm this species. According to McPhee, "shad seem to require a large critical mass in order to detonate successful spawning," suggesting a potential for rapid downward population spirals. However, fish populations can also rebound in ways which leave scientists flummoxed (for more on this read Matthiessen's "Men's Lives").

    By the mid-1930s, shad stocks were on the march again, and by 1939 the river-wide catch had surpassed 3 million lbs. By 1944 the catch was nearly 4 million pounds,. This was a good thing for the bellies of our overseas troops, but it also marked the beginning of a long decline from which our Hudson River shad never revived.

    The author of the Columbia Republican story was probably being cheeky suggesting "the reason" for the shad's return in 1918. Either way, we now know that shad somehow "bicoordinate" when they return to the specific rivers which spawned them. Due to Federalism, states themselves must regulate shad in each of their rivers, though these states have all agreed to coordinate their efforts with other states with migratory fish. In my opinion, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has spent too many years dithering about whether, and how, to establish regulatory "Essential Fish Habitats" (EFH) to better protect all of our migratory herring.

    The City of Hudson has three species of migratory herring - each of them stressed - and could easily contribute something in support of this worthy goal (e.g., making inquiries, writing letters of support, just get the ball rolling ...). Nowadays, though, it seems we're all quite ignorant about our environment and our oh-so-progressive City does nothing.

    Thank you, Gossips, for sharing this anecdotal story which confirms the historical data.