What is an American Shad?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison

An American Shad, or Alosa sapidissima, is a saltwater fish in the Clupeidae family that spends most of its life along the Atlantic coastline. It is an anadromous fish, meaning that it relocates to freshwater rivers when it is time to spawn, and often traveling for hundreds of miles. Shad is a popular sport fish and is often called the poor man's salmon. It is a good source of many important nutrients.

American Shad is a type of herring that feeds mainly on plankton. It will also consume shrimp and the eggs of other fish. Occasionally it feeds on small fish when plankton is scarce.

An American Shad female can spawn several times while migrating and often produces as many as 250,000 eggs in a single year. She releases eggs while swimming upstream, and the male travels behind her and fertilizes them. The eggs hatch in just four to nine days, depending on the water temperature. Most of the young hatchlings end up as food for pike, walleye, and large and small mouth bass.

The young fish that do survive will stay in freshwater until they are 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long. When they reach this size, which takes several months, they begin their trek back to the ocean. As they reach saltwater, they are often preyed upon by larger ocean fish such as bluefish and striped bass. The few that make it back to deep water quickly grow to maturity.

These types of fish range in size from 2 to 13 pounds (.9 to 6 kg) when mature, although most are in the 6 to 7 pound (2.7 to 3.2 kg) range. They are usually 2 feet long or less, but have been know to get up to 30 inches (76.2 cm). They can be identified by their greenish backs, silvery gray sides, and white undersides. There are also usually one or two rows of black spots along the sides of the fish, starting at the back edge of their gill covers. Similar to other herrings, they have very sharp scales along their bellies.

Shad is very high in Omega 3, selenium, phosphorus, and niacin. It is also an excellent source of protein. These types of fish have been found to be very low in toxins. Shad roe, i.e., the eggs of this fish, are considered a gourmet delicacy. They are usually sauteed or baked before eating.

The populations of American Shad has decreased in many areas over the last century. This is due to water pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of different invasive exotic fish to the rivers where they go to spawn. It is hoped that the population will stabilize now that so many environmental restrictions are in place to prevent polluted waters.

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