With coastwide American shad populations at their lowest level on record, fishery managers are likely to tighten fishing restrictions and require increased monitoring under a new management plan.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in August released for comment though Oct. 16 an amendment to its shad management plan that seeks to protect shad and restore them to sustainable levels.
The commission, which represents all East Coast states and federal agencies, is responsible for managing species that migrate across state lines.
In the early 1900s, more than 50 million pounds of shad were caught in the Bay and along the coast-for a time, it was the most valuable commercial fishery in the Bay.
That's changed dramatically. Coastwide catches are less than than 3 million pounds. In September, New York became the latest state to announce it would ban commercial and recreational shad fishing because of the dropping population.
In the Chesapeake, commercial fishing is banned, although fishermen in some cases are allowed to keep shad caught as bycatch when targeting other species. Only a catch-and-release recreational fishery is allowed.
The ASMFC has already banned catching shad in the ocean, but individual states can still allow fisheries in their rivers.
That could change. Among the management options on the table are an outright closure of shad fisheries, reduced harvests in those that exist or closing those considered unsustainable.
In a significant change, the amendment also proposes judging sustainability with a new definition of overharvesting. Instead of relying only on harvest data, it proposes incorporating all human-induced mortality-including dam pollution, bycatch and other factors-into the equation.
Many scientists have suggested for years that fisheries be managed based on total removals rather than harvests because it gives a more complete picture of stock health.
"It is a much more holistic way to manage shad stocks," said Pam Gromen, executive director of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. "That is the heart of the amendment.
"The focus on total mortality will encourage states to start looking at various sources of mortality, which are probably going to be different from stock to stock," she added.
For recreational fishing, ASMFC proposals range from the status quo, to banning recreational harvests where they are allowed and permitting only catch-and-release fishing, or a moratorium on all recreational catches.
The amendment also calls for an increase in monitoring, including the monitoring of bycatch. Some believe the amount of shad reported in bycatches along the coast has been underestimated.
"The monitoring they have proposed in there is necessary for this overfishing definition to be in place," Gromen said.
Shad are an anadromous fish, which spends most of its life migrating along the coast, but returns to the freshwater rivers where it was spawned to reproduce.
Restoring shad populations has been a major goal around the Bay. Shad have been the target of massive stocking efforts for more than a decade, and multimillion-dollar fish passages have been built to allow their migration upstream.
Nonetheless, shad populations around the Bay have been stable or decreasing in recent years-which has also been the case all along the East Coast.
The ASMFC will likely act on the amendment at its November meeting. For information on the amendment or to comment, visit www.asmfc.org.