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Migratory Fish Return to the Delaware River

While the temperatures have not felt like spring, the migratory fish of the Delaware River tell us that the season is indeed upon us, with spawning runs now beginning in the Delaware River.

Shortnose Sturgeon

The Shortnose sturgeon have begun their annual spawning run in the lower Delaware River. They have again been spotted in the river, which is encouraging given that the Shortnose sturgeon are an endangered species.

For additional information on the Shortnose sturgeon, please visit the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service web page.

American Shad

The American shad are also starting their annual run up the Delaware River to spawn. A member of the herring family, American shad are anadromous fish, meaning they are born in fresh water, live for several years as adults in the ocean, and return to their natal waters to spawn.

The Delaware River is an important waterway for American shad, and their presence is indicative of the water quality improvements that have occurred over time. Additionally, the fact that there are no dams on the mainstem Delaware greatly increases their success at traveling upriver to spawn. Click here to learn more about the American shad.

In March 2013, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, in coordination with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (all part of the N.J. Dept. of Environmental Protection) announced that N.J. was closing all of its commercial and recreational American shad fisheries, in both marine and fresh waters, with the exception of the Delaware Bay, Delaware River, and its tributaries. This means no possession or harvest of American shad in these waters; for the Delaware Bay, Delaware River, and its tributaries, recreational possession limits and commercial net regulations will apply. Click here for more details.

Why the Closure?

American shad stocks are declining up and down the Atlantic Coast. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) passed an amendment to their fishery management plan for American shad that states that unless a waterway has an ASMFC-approved sustainable management plan, recreational and commercial harvest of American shad is prohibited.

Members of the Delaware River Basin Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative (Co-Op) developed a sustainability plan for American shad for the Delaware River (pdf 1.5 MB), which was approved by ASMFC's Shad and River Herring Board. The sustainability plan set benchmarks that must be met for the fishery to remain open. The Co-Op, of which DRBC is a liaison member, believes that while the Delaware population of American shad is not in the best of shape, it is sustainable and strong enough to remain open.

The news that the Delaware shad fishery is able to remain open when all others in the state of N.J. have been closed is a sign that it is in better shape than others. The work of the Co-Op and others will provide the monitoring and data needed to ensure that the approved benchmarks are being met.

View 2013 Delaware River Shad Fishing Reports on the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife web site.