The American shad “season” on the Susquehanna River ended June 3 at Conowingo Dam.
And this year’s results hit a new low.
The season is the period during which an elevator at Conowingo lifts shad up past the dam during their spring spawning run.
The Conowingo Dam is the first impediment spawning shad hit as they return from the Atlantic Ocean to run up the Susquehanna River.
Operators of the hydroelectric dams at Holtwood, Safe Harbor and York Haven also run fish elevators, and those lifts are still operating.
But Conowingo is the gatekeeper for the annual run. Since it’s the first dam the fish hit, it always passes the most shad.
While Pennsylvania does not allow recreational fishing for shad on the Susquehanna River, Maryland does, and the area below Conowingo is popular among Maryland and Pennsylvania anglers alike.
Elevator operations began at Conowingo on April 2. The first shad was lifted April 21. The elevator was shut down June 3.
During that time, a total of 6,992 American shad were hoisted over the dam to continue their spawning run.
That’s the lowest on record since counts began in 1997, and it’s less than half the number of shad lifted last year – 16,248.
It’s important to note that high water is known to suppress the shad run, because it’s harder for the shad to find the elevator when the dams are spilling a lot of water.
And the Susquehanna certainly has carried a lot of water this spring.
But the low count at Conowingo this year falls in line with recent history, as the number of shad lifted over the dam has been steadily declining since the high count of record – 193,574 – in 2001.
The previous record low count came in 2015, when 8,341 shad were hoisted at Conowingo.
In an effort to boost the plummeting numbers of American shad running up the Susquehanna, Exelon Generation, which owns the Conowingo Dam, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 reached an agreement that calls for up to 100,000 shad and 100,000 river herring to be captured below Conowingo and trucked past the dam to Susquehanna River tributaries where shad are known to spawn.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission supplements the effort by stocking shad fingerlings it grows at a hatchery in Juniata County.
Fish and Boat Commission officials in 2016 told LNP it will likely take decades before any “substantial progress” is seen in boosting the annual shad run.
The ultimate goal is for 2 million American shad to be lifted beyond all four dams each year.