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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - American Shad

Marine Fisheries

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AMERICAN SHAD, Alosa sapidissima

8-point rule

American shad

 

Life History

American shad (Alosa sapidissima) are anadromous fish, meaning they spend most of their adult lives at sea, only returning to freshwater in the spring to spawn. Historically, American shad spawned in almost every river and tributary along the East Coast. Shad young leave their home river within the first year and will spend the next few years at sea, schooling in large numbers with shad from other regions and feeding on plankton, small fish, and crustaceans. Upon reaching maturity, at about age 4, they return to the streams they were born in to spawn. Males or "buck shad" return first, followed by females or "roe shad." They spawn usually at night or during overcast days. In the southern range (Cape Fear River to Florida), females release as many as 700,000 eggs during the spawning season, but both males and females normally die after spawning. In the northern range, females typically release 300,000 eggs or less during the spawning season; however, most shad will return to spawn in the following years, with some shad living up to 10 years.

Fisheries

American shad once supported one of the largest and most important commercial fisheries along the Atlantic Coast. Since colonial times, the blockage of spawning habitat in rivers by dams and other impediments, combined with habitat degradation and overfishing, have severely depleted American shad populations. In 2005, the directed at-sea fishery for American shad was closed. The most recent coastwide stock assessment for American shad found that most American shad stocks were at all-time lows and did not appear to be recovering. In response to the assessment results, states and jurisdictions that wanted to continue to operate fisheries for American shad were required to develop sustainable fishery management plans for American shad. North Carolina's sustainable fishery plan was approved in November 2012 by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, followed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Since the implementation of the plan in 2013, commercial American shad landings have declined, especially with the implementation of the 21-day season for the Albemarle Sound Management area in 2014 (Figure 1). There are no commercial size or possession limits for American shad taken commercially from North Carolina waters. Commercial seasons are set annually for four regions of the state: Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River, Tar/Pamlico River, Neuse River, and Cape Fear River. In 2016 the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River commercial season was open from March 3 to March 24. The Tar/Pamlico River and Neuse River systems commercial season was open from Feb. 15 to April 14. The Cape Fear River system commercial season was open from Feb. 20 to April 11. All other internal coastal and joint fishing waters commercial season was open from Feb. 15 to April 11. Check with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries for the most recent proclamation on commercial seasons and gear restrictions.

Figure 1

Recreational fishing for American shad is popular coastwide during the spring spawning run. Despite its popularity, recreational harvest from North Carolina was largely unknown, due to no dedicated creel survey for American shad in all river systems, until recent years. In 2012, through coordination with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, methods were developed to conduct recreational creel surveys for shad species (American and hickory shad) on the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers (Figure 2). The Roanoke River angler survey specifically targets striped bass effort and catch, therefore survey estimates are not representative of the shad fishery and are simply observations.

There is no recreational size limit for American shad and the season is open year-round. The recreational bag limit in Albemarle Sound, Roanoke, Neuse and Bay rivers is a 10-fish aggregate (hickory and American shad combined) per person, per day, of which only one American shad can be taken . The Cape Fear River and tributaries recreational limit is a 10-fish aggregate of which no more than 5 may be American shad. In the Tar/Pamlico and Pungo rivers, Pamlico Sound, and other coastal and joint waters the limit is no more than 10 shad fish in the aggregate per person, per day recreationally. Recreational landings for American shad are minimal throughout the Albemarle Sound, Roanoke, Tar/Pamlico and Neuse rivers. The bulk of the North Carolina recreational fishery occurs in the Cape Fear River system where substantial effort is expended on American shad. The recreational seasons for American shad are announced by proclamation each year.

Figure 2

Management

In North Carolina, American shad are jointly managed by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Fishery Management Plan compliance requirements. An Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan for shad and river herring was approved in 1985 and Amendment 1 of this plan was approved October 1998. Since the 2007 coastwide stock assessment, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved Amendment 3 to the Shad and River Herring Fishery Management Plan in February 2010. Nursery and spawning habitat for American shad will be evaluated to assess habitat degradation, barriers to migration, and water quality. Amendment 3 required a sustainable fishery plan for all systems that will remain open to commercial or recreational fishing. North Carolina's American Shad Sustainable Fishery Plan was approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2012.

North Carolina's American Shad Sustainable Fishery Plan was enacted to manage the commercial and recreational fisheries for American shad in North Carolina. Sustainability parameters for the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke system, Tar/Pamlico River, Neuse River, and Cape Fear River were created to monitor the harvest of American shad under the Sustainable Fishery Plan. The sustainability parameters are updated each fall by biologists from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with the most recent data, and the following year's American shad management measures for each system are determined.

Stock Status Overview

A coastwide stock assessment for American shad was completed in August 2007, which indicated stocks in the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke system and tributaries were low but remained stable and stock status in other systems of the state was unknown. The status of American shad in North Carolina continues to be defined as "concern" based on low levels of abundance compared to historical levels, a lack of improvement in relative stock abundance indices, and results from the 2007 stock assessment.

Under North Carolina's Sustainable Fishery Plan, three sustainability parameters were created to monitor the status of American shad in the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke system: 1) Albemarle Sound female catch per unit effort for three consecutive years below the threshold, calculated in number of fish per net from the Division of Marine Fisheries Albemarle Sound Independent Gill Net Survey (Figure 2); 2) Female catch per unit effort for three consecutive years below the threshold, calculated in number of fish per minute from the Wildlife Resources Commission electrofishing survey in the Roanoke River (Figure 3); 3) Female relative fishing mortality for three consecutive years of values above the threshold, calculated using Albemarle Sound commercial gill net landings of roe (female), American shad and female catch per unit effort from the Division of Marine Fisheries Albemarle Sound Independent Gill Net Survey (Figure 4). In 2016, two of the three parameters were within range except for the Roanoke River female catch per unit effort from the Wildlife Resources Commission electrofishing survey in the Roanoke River. The 2016 value for this parameter fell below the threshold for the first time since 2010. Even though the value was below the threshold no management measures were triggered because the other two parameters were within range.

Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

For the Tar/Pamlico River, Neuse River, and Cape Fear River two sustainability parameters were created to monitor each system: 1) Female catch per unit effort for three consecutive years below the threshold, calculated in number of fish per minute from the Wildlife Resources Commission electrofishing survey in each system; 2) Female relative fishing mortality for three consecutive years of values above the threshold, calculated using commercial gill net landings of roe (female) American shad and female catch per unit effort from Wildlife Resources Commission electrofishing survey in each system. For each of the monitored systems, all sustainability parameters have remained within range and have not triggered further management measures.

Research Needs

North Carolina specific data and research needs include establishing indices of abundance in all river systems utilizing dependent and independent data; improving and expanding methods of monitoring catch and effort data in commercial and recreational fisheries; and validating current aging techniques for American shad.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Stock Assessment Reports

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Contacts

For more information,
contact Holly White at Holly.White@ncdenr.gov
or 252-264-3911
shad
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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