Public Comment Sought on Adding Susquehanna River American Shad to State Wildlife Action Plan

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is inviting public comment on the addition of Susquehanna River American shad to the state Wildlife Action Plan, the document that prescribes conservation measures for species and their critical habitat before they become rarer and more costly to protect and restore.

 “Populations of American shad have been considerably reduced throughout the East Coast, including Pennsylvania, primarily as a result of dams which have impeded movement of fish to spawning areas,” said Dave Day, PFBC conservation coordinator.

“Adding the species to the state Wildlife Action Plan would highlight the importance of this species and would provide the Commission with more flexibility to fund, or receive funding for, projects that benefit the species within the drainage of the Susquehanna River.”

Public comments will be accepted online or in writing through Wednesday, July 6. Comments can be submitted online. Written comments must be postmarked no later than July 6.

In September 2005, the PFBC and the Pennsylvania Game Commission submitted the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which must approve all proposed amendments. This plan was required from each state and U.S. territory in order to continue to receive funds under the State Wildlife Grants Program. Since 2001, Pennsylvania has received nearly $20 million with an annual appropriation of approximately $2 million. This funding is shared equally between the PFBC and the Game Commission. 

The Fish and Boat Commission was established, in part, to protect American shad and associated migratory species and given the status of its population, it is only logical that this species be included in the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan. Although the species is considered globally abundant, it has undergone significant declines over the past century. Historically, catches of American shad along the Atlantic coast have plummeted from about 50 million pounds in 1900, to less than 4 million pounds in1980, and even further to 1.5 million pounds by 1993.

A moratorium on harvesting American shad in the Chesapeake Bay has been in place since 1980. A moratorium on directed harvest in ocean waters was put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2005. Currently, the species is under restoration in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. 

Within Pennsylvania, the primary rivers with American shad are the Susquehanna, Lehigh and Delaware rivers.  On the Susquehanna River, catch of American shad at the fish lifts at Conowingo Dam averaged 120 fish per year from 1972 to 1981, and then increased steadily to a maximum of more than 200,000 fish in 2001. Since 1989, hatchery-reared shad have predominated, representing 61 percent of the catch at Conowingo.

On the Delaware River the species was incredibly abundant until the early 1900’s, then declined precipitously due to overfishing and pollution. Since the 1960’s, the Delaware River shad population has rebounded, creating an important sport fishery, although the runs are nowhere near the abundance of 100 years ago.

The Fish and Boat Commission is specifically recommending the addition of the American shad within the Susquehanna River drainage to the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan at “Conservation Tier 5 – Maintenance Concern Level.” Conservation Tier 5 contains species that are considered relatively abundant and fairly secure in Pennsylvania, but have undergone declines.

The proposed American Shad amendment and American Shad Species Account are posted online. Public comments will be accepted through July 6. Comments may be submitted electronically. Written comments must be postmarked no later than July 6 and should be sent to: American Shad/WAP/Public Comments, c/o Dave Day, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000.

Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan can be downloaded from the Commission Web site.

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