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Ogeechee River Shad

Shad is one of Georgia’s “salmon” species: It begins life in freshwater rivers, leaves to grow into an adult in the ocean, then returns several years later to its natal stream to reproduce.

Georgia has at least six anadromous fish species: the American shad, hickory shad, blueback herring, Atlantic sturgeon, mullet, and striped bass. Anadromous species are those species that for a part of their life cycle live in a saltwater habitat but use the freshwater river systems for spawning and nursery purposes.

Traditionally, shad has been prized for its rich, delicate flesh and delectable roe, and landings of shad have traditionally led other fish species in commercial value. But overfishing has depleted their numbers on the Georgia coast from a high of 618,000 pounds in 1969 to 125,872 pounds worth $93,540 in 1997. The Ogeechee variety of shad is especially well known and sought after. During the early part of the year, it can be found on some local menus.

For thousands of years, fishermen have depended on the regular shad runs up southeastern Atlantic rivers during the first four months of the year. Females swim up the river from the Atlantic Ocean to lay their eggs, which hatch and develop as they float downstream. The juveniles leave the rivers in October for the Atlantic Ocean, and travel as far away as Canada and develop into adults. Four or five years later, when it is time to reproduce, they return to the streams of their birth.

Shad are caught in nets and have had their numbers depleted over the years. Regulation of shad fishing has helped stabilize declines and there is hope that shad may be allowed to survive into the twenty-first century without going the way of the dodo bird.

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