The Columbia: River of Shad?

Last week I delivered a public lecture at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, The Archaeology of Herring: Fisheries and Sustainability across Millennia. Mostly I talked about Pacific herring in Alaska and B.C.  I had a great audience, many of them fellow fish-lovers, and some good questions were asked, including ones I couldn’t answer. One person asked about the Columbia River shad, about which I knew only as an important East Coast fish that was introduced into the Pacific Northwest.  I commented that my father would probably be ashamed of my knowing so little about this fish. Stimulated by the the questioner’s prompting (and not wanting to further embarrass my father who taught me to fish), I’ve learned that the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is the largest member of the clupeid (herring) family.  Although it gets bigger on the east coast, it can grow to 24 inches and 8 lbs. in the Columbia. This species was introduced into the Sacramento River in 1871, and some stragglers found their way to the Columbia even before it was introduced there in 1885. Shad have been incredibly successful adapting to the Columbia, especially after the “Celilo Invasion” in 1957 when they were able to get past the falls with the construction of the Dalles Dam.  So while this and other dams have harmed salmon, new niches have been created for shad.  As Hinrichsen and Ebbesmeyer (1998:) wrote, “as long as we have dams on the Columbia… it may be best to value and manage the shad.” Their article in Shad Journal is very instructive <>. We should all be eating more shad, and their roe sounds especially delicious.

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