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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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

Marine Fisheries

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HICKORY SHAD, Alosa mediocris

8-point rule

Hickory shad

Life History

Hickory shad (Alosa mediocris) is an anadromous species, meaning it spends its adult life in the ocean then migrates into rivers and tributaries to spawn in the spring. Hickory shad range from the Bay of Fundy in Canada to the east coast of Florida. Much less is known about spawning, distribution, and movement of hickory shad than American shad or river herring. After spawning adult hickory shad return to the ocean. Fertilized eggs are carried downstream by river currents while they develop into larvae. Larvae start feeding in about four to seven days after hatching and continue drifting downstream until they reach the mouths of the rivers and enter the sounds and estuaries. It is thought that juvenile hickory shad do not use the same freshwater nursery areas as river herring and American shad, but prefer higher salinity waters. In early to late summer, juvenile hickory shad leave their nursery areas and return to the sea.

Adult hickory shad range from 12 to 20 inches and are noticeably smaller than American shad. In some systems, adults spawn more than once, but in others they spawn once and die. Females mature around age 3 or 4 and the oldest recent samples are 9 years of age. They form schools in the ocean and feed on a variety of small fishes such as lance, anchovies and silversides.

Fisheries

Hickory shad have never been as abundant as American shad and river herring. Historically, they were captured in commercial pound net and haul seine fisheries along with American shad and river herring, but often not separated from American shad, resulting in uncertainty in early landings data. Most commercial landings have occurred from Maryland to North Carolina, with North Carolina the largest contributor. Landings in North Carolina have increased over the past ten years, ranging from about 35,000 pounds in 2007 to a peak of 148,714 pounds in 2015. Landings in 2016 were 96,543 pounds and have averaged 87,400 pounds over the past ten years (Figure 1). The dockside value in 2016 was $29,418 and has averaged $25,566 over the past ten years. Nearly all landings come from gill nets.

Figure 1

Recreational fishing for hickory shad has become increasingly popular coastwide during the spring spawning run. Anglers target hickory shad with light tackle spinning rods or fly rods using small flies and darts. Recreational harvest for hickory shad in 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 hickory 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. 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 hickory shad are announced by proclamation each year.

Figure 2

Management

In North Carolina hickory shad are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for plan compliance requirements. The original Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan for Shad and River Herring was approved in 1985, with Amendment 1 approved in October 1988. Although Amendment 2 and Amendment 3 to the plan were approved in the past three years, neither addresses hickory shad. Amendment 2 focuses on river herring and Amendment 3 focuses on American shad.

Stock Status Overview

There are insufficient data to conduct a traditional stock assessment for hickory shad in North Carolina or a coastwide assessment by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; therefore, the population size of hickory shad and the rate of removal from the population cannot be determined. The North Carolina Division of Marine fisheries has not conducted directed sampling for hickory shad since 1993, although they are encountered sporadically in other sampling programs. Like American shad and river herring, loss of spawning habitat and degraded water quality have negative impacts on hickory shad.

Research Needs

There is a need for all types of fishery dependent (commercial and recreational harvest) and fishery independent (collected by scientists on a long-term basis) data on hickory 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

Contacts

For more information,
contact Holly White at Holly.White@ncdenr.gov
or 252-264-3911
Hickory 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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