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DRBC Staff Helps with 2021 American Shad Young-of-Year Data Collection
DRBC staff helps sein (catch with large net) for juvenile American Shad. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff helps sein (catch with large net) for juvenile
American Shad at Phillipsburg, N.J. Photo by DRBC.

In addition to being active throughout the year sampling the Delaware River and analyzing data for its various water quality programs, DRBC staff periodically assist with monitoring efforts led by partner agencies or basin cooperatives.

After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, Commission staff once again helped basin state and federal fisheries biologists during the late summer and fall by providing manpower and expertise to count numbers of juvenile American shad in the non-tidal Delaware River.

What are American Shad?

American shad, a member of the herring family, 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 (where they're born) to spawn (lay their eggs) in the spring.

Juvenile American shad, called young-of-the-year (YOY), are those that are born in the spring and spend their first summer in the river. As the water temperatures cool, they travel south to overwinter in the warmer waters of the Delaware Estuary and Bay before heading out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Learn more about American shad

The Delaware River Basin Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative (Co-Op)

In the Delaware River Basin, the Co-Op is responsible for the management of American shad (and other fish species).

The Co-Op is made up of fisheries representatives from the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife, New York State Division of Marine Resources, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

DRBC is a liaison member to the Co-Op.

Other supporting agencies include the National Park Service, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Nature Conservancy.

Monitoring Juvenile American Shad

To help determine how well the fishery is doing each year, the Co-Op organizes surveys to monitor YOY shad numbers in the non-tidal Delaware as they travel downriver towards the estuary.

The shad are collected by seining, using a large net to catch the fish in the river. Other fish species are also caught, and the fisheries team must then sort and identify which are YOY shad so their numbers can be recorded. 

Six sites on the Delaware River are monitored, once monthly in August, September and October:

  • Skinner's Falls
  • Milford, Pa.
  • Delaware Water Gap
  • Phillipsburg, N.J.
  • Fireman's Eddy, N.J.
  • Trenton, N.J.

The data collected from these surveys support an approved management plan that is in place to ensure that the fishery remains viable and sustainable.

2021 YOY Surveys

In 2021, DRBC staff assisted the YOY surveys at Phillipsburg, N.J. in August, September and October and at the Delaware Water Gap in September and October. Staff helped seine, sort, and count the numbers of YOY shad collected.

The Delaware Water Gap was sampled in August by other Co-Op members/partners, giving it a complete record for the year.

The remaining three sites were either partially completed or not completed at all in 2021 due to covid protocols.

What Do Recent Surveys Show?

In 2017, record numbers were seen. In 2018, no surveys occurred due to consistent high river flows. 2019 was also a successful year, ranking #7 in the program.

As mentioned above, no YOY surveys occurred in 2020 due to the pandemic.

While it is too soon to delve deep into the data, 2021 YOY seining efforts showed varied results. Hauls from the August sampling events (in Phillipsburg, Delaware Water Gap and Milford) were promising, but lower numbers were seen in September and October. An explanation for this could be the multiple storm and high water events experienced in the late summer and early fall that likely flushed YOY shad to the estuary earlier than expected.

DRBC staff work hard to fulfill the Commission's mission of managing, protecting and improving the basin's water resources. Partnering with other agencies on their monitoring efforts to support clean water and the aquatic life of the Delaware River is a key component of that mission.

Photos from October 2021 YOY Survey: Phillipsburg, N.J.

The boat used to distribute the net in the water. Photo by DRBC. Hauling in the net used ot catch the fish. Photo by DRBC. The fish are then separated and identified. Photo by DRBC

The boat used for the surveys. Bringing in the net. Counting the fish.

A YOY American shad. Photo by DRBC. A rock. bass. Photo by DRBC. Fish are identified and measured. Photo by DRBC.

A Young-of-Year American shad. A Rock bass. Fish are sorted, identified, counted and measured.