Mid-Atlantic
Andrew S. Lewis/NJ Spotlight

Delaware - It’s the last of the Delaware River’s shad fisheries, and the fish are scarce

For centuries, the shad spawn has been celebrated by Delaware watershed fishermen and -women, from the South Jersey Bayshore all the way up to the confluence of the river’s west and east branches in Hancock, New York, some 200 miles away.

Steve Meserve wasn’t feeling optimistic. A storm front had moved in overnight and a cold, west-northwest wind was running down the river. The 54-degree water temperature, he said, “makes the shad want to sit down in an eddy somewhere and wait for warmer weather.”

But here in Lambertville, on a wide and deep reach of the Delaware River, this spring’s shad run has been good, even promising. As they have done most every night from late March through May since 1888, fishermen from Lewis Fishery slipped on hip waders and prepared a battered flat-bottom and seine for the evening’s haul.

For centuries, the shad spawn has been celebrated by Delaware watershed fishermen and -women, from the South Jersey Bayshore all the way up to the confluence of the river’s west and east branches in Hancock, New York, some 200 miles away. The contemporary run, however, is a fraction of what it was in the early nineteenth century, when Philadelphia fishmongers would boast that one could just about walk across the river on a carpet made of the deep green-purple backs of the American shad.


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