Public comment will be sought this summer on the future of the long-controversial ocean fishery for American shad.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shad Management Board is seeking input on a range of alternatives that could alter both coastal and river fishing for the migratory fish.
The commission is responsible for managing migratory species along the coast.
Shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, but return to their native rivers to spawn. Historically, most of the fishing effort toward shad took place within their spawning rivers, though in recent decades an ocean-based shad fishery has emerged.
Critics of the ocean fishery have long argued that it is indiscriminate, potentially taking fish from rivers with healthy and unhealthy populations alike. Such a harvest, they say, hinders restoration efforts. Critics argue that any shad fishing should be done within rivers, to allow for appropriate regulation and protection of troubled stocks.
That view was advanced by a technical committee to the shad board. But that recommendation was tempered by a stock assessment report which found no evidence that shad populations from major rivers were being impacted by the ocean fishery, though the assessment acknowledged that small populations from other rivers could be impacted.
The Bay Program has written to the ASMFC, asking for a closure of the ocean fishery, saying it hinders efforts to restore shad in the Bay’s tributaries.
Options for public comment will range from maintaining the status quo, to fully closing either the ocean or river fisheries with other alternatives in between, said John Field, anadromous species coordinator with the ASMFC. Because the issue is contentious, he said, “I think public input is going to weigh heavily on this.”
If the ocean is closed to shad fishing, it could increase pressure to open the Potomac and rivers in Virginia, where the shad moratorium has been a contentious issue.
Nonetheless, Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said it makes more sense to make decisions river-by-river than to allow a continued ocean fishery.
“I think you can make a very strong case for keeping the river fisheries closed for the time being,” he said. “I think it’s preferable to be having those debates than it is to having an ocean fishery which, by its mixed-stock nature, is inherently unmanageable according to the health of individual stocks, and that is the fundamental point.”