For Immediate Release - July 23, 2014

State and Federal Wildlife Officials Work With Local Partners to Restore Shad in Charles River

Agencies releasing three million shad larvae into the Charles River this summer

WALTHAM – Wednesday, July 23, 2014 – Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin today joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and DFG’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to release tens of thousands of American shad larvae into the Charles River in Waltham as part of a multi-year effort since 2006 to restore native shad populations in Massachusetts rivers. Over two million shad have been released into the Charles River this year as part of the American Shad Propagation Project.

Once abundant in larger river systems, like the Charles, Connecticut, Merrimack and Neponset rivers, American shad populations have decreased over the last century in Massachusetts waterways due to construction of dams, water pollution and overfishing. Water quality improvements, construction of fish passage facilities and regulation of fishing have resulted in the recent restoration of shad in the Connecticut and Merrimack River systems.

“It’s very encouraging to see that this collaborative effort to restore shad is coming to fruition,” said Commissioner Griffin. “This is a great partnership involving our Division of Marine Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Charles River Watershed Association.”

The goal is to restore viable populations of American shad to the river and create a local sport fishery. The project is a long-term collaborative effort between DMF and the USFWS Eastern New England Fishery Complex. It includes the development of a shad larvae stocking program in conjunction with fish passage improvements.

"This year we are especially proud to reach an important milestone," said Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service northeast regional director. "The majority of returning adult shad that we captured in the Charles River this spring were marked as hatchery-reared fish. This demonstrates the critical role our national fish hatcheries play in the success of restoration partnerships. Schools of adult American shad were more apparent in our sampling on the river this year than in the past, and we can say with guarded confidence that we are on the road to success."?

The larvae stocking program is modeled after successful programs implemented for restoring shad to Chesapeake Bay tributaries. In the Massachusetts program, adult shad migrating upriver to spawn are obtained from the Merrimack River, where the shad population has rebounded over the past several decades.

“Since 1965, Charles River Watershed Association has been committed to restoring the Charles River so that it can once again support a thriving migratory fish population,” said CRWA Executive Director Bob Zimmerman. “While we still have much work to do, the return of the American shad this year shows we are making great strides in improved water quality. We also need to explore the feasibility of removing the Watertown Dam to enable more shad to pass over the dam to spawn.”  

The Charles River is the primary target for shad restoration in Massachusetts due to the availability of spawning and rearing habitat, as well as the centuries of shad in the system. The partners hope to restore an adult population of about 30,000 in the Charles River.  

Since 2010, DMF biologists have been monitoring near the Watertown Dam for adult shad returning to the Charles River and hundreds of adult fish have returned this season. A sample of these fish was captured using an electrofishing boat and brought back to the laboratory. Upon close examination, the majority of shad were found to have been stocked from the USFWS hatcheries. This result is encouraging, but more needs to be done to improve the fish passage in Watertown and further upstream to allow for adult fish to reach suitable spawning habitat.

The CRWA has assisted USFWS and DMF in the American shad restoration efforts by monitoring the Charles River prior to release events to help improve project fish survival rates, and following release events to document habitat conditions. CRWA has also worked to repair and maintain fish passage along the Charles, especially fish ladders at dams so that adult shad can return to the river to spawn.

DFG is responsible for promoting the conservation and enjoyment of the Commonwealth's natural resources. DFG carries out this mission through land protection and wildlife habitat management, management of inland and marine fish and wildlife species and ecological restoration of fresh water, salt water and terrestrial habitats. DFG promotes enjoyment of the Massachusetts environment through outdoor skills workshops, fishing festivals and other educational programs, and by enhancing access to the Commonwealth's rivers, lakes and coastal waters.