|American Shad from the Potomac River|
If things were this bad in the late 1770s, George Washington’s starving Continental Army might never have made it out of Valley Forge.
The shad, according to one account, came charging up the Schuylkill River to spawn and ran headlong into soldiers who leapt into the water, herded them into nets and wolfed them down.
|Catherine Lim with an American shad|
Now the shad are depleted to the point of collapse. The population is so low that the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council last week imposed the first-ever cap on the domestic commercial catch of shad and river herring — which Washington’s army also ate during the war against the British.
Most states along the Atlantic Coast already enforce moratoriums for shad and herring fishing in their waters, which extend three miles offshore. But beyond that, in federal waters, a fleet of trawlers fishing for mackerel hauls in more than 900 metric tons of shad and herring per year as bycatch.
|Sandy Burk and American Shad|
It will be interesting to see how the mackerel fishing industry handles a mandate to cut shad and herring catches without lowering its catch of the target mackerel.
The fleet, under the new guidelines imposed by the federal council, will be limited to 236 metric tons of bycatch, far less than the industry proposed but far more than the limit pushed by conservationists.
The cap, which goes into effect next year, is “a really important first,” said Joseph Gordon, manager of U.S. oceans in the northeast for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “River herring and shad used to be the largest fisheries on the coast, forage fish that others eat. Most of their population has declined 90 percent.”
Rather than closing off parts of the ocean to fishing, the federal council gave the industry discretion to figure out how to avoid picking up shad and herring. That’s important to an industry that wants to preserve its mackerel catch, worth $3 million annually overseas.
An interesting Powerpoint presentation, as a PDF, here.