In less than two months from the time a 120-foot notch was blasted in Embrey Dam, Virginia wildlife officials saw the first sign of success—a hickory shad caught upstream on April 9.
The fish, caught during electrofishing sampling about a half mile upstream of the dam, was the first documentation of an anadromous species using the breach to move up the Rappahannock River to spawn.
“These first sightings are an exciting and strong testament to the benefits of breaching the dam,” said Bill Woodfin, director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, one several agencies that cooperated in the dam breaching that took place Feb. 23.
“Although this is just the beginning, as the rest of the dam comes down we can all look forward to more shad and other species following their natural course upriver toward the Blue Ridge,” he said. The rest of the dam is scheduled to be removed by early 2006.
Within days of the first sighting, DGIF Fish Passage Coordinator Alan Weaver reported that hundreds, if not thousands, of hickory shad were observed in the waters above the dam. “The water was churning with migration activity,” he said.
Embrey, and an older dam that proceeded it, had blocked shad and other anadromous fish from reaching their historic upstream spawning areas for more than 150 years.
When it was breached, the Rappahannock became the first free-flowing river to connect the Chesapeake Bay and the Blue Ridge Mountains in more than a century. The date of the blast, carried out by Army and Air Force Reserve demolition teams, was set to open the river in time for this year’s migration season.
The closure of historic spawning areas by dams and other barriers to migration is considered one of the factors leading to the demise of shad, sturgeon, herring, eels and other migratory species in the watershed.