The American shad is a thin river herring with a large dark shoulder spot. (Shermon Foote Denton)
Also known as white shad, the American shad is a thin river herring with a metallic body and dark spots on its shoulder. It visits the Chesapeake Bay each spring to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams.
Thin, metallic body varies in color from greenish to dark blue
Large dark shoulder spot may be followed by several paler spots
Large, easily shed scales come together at belly to form a saw-toothed edge
Tail fin is deeply forked
Grows 20 to 24 inches long. Can reach a length of 30 inches and weigh as much as 12 pounds. Females are larger than males
Visits the Chesapeake Bay each spring to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams, including the James, Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. After spawning, shad move downstream, leaving the Bay by summer
During spawning season, American shad can be found in the rivers of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Outside of spawning season, American shad can be found in the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
In the ocean, American shad feed on plankton, crustaceans and small fish
Adults stop feeding once they begin their upstream spawning migration. Once water temperatures warm and spawning season ends, diets return to normal
Predators include bears, birds and large fish like striped bass, smallmouth bass, blue fish and channel catfish
Reproduction and Life Cycle:
Shad are anadromous, which means they live in the ocean but spawn in freshwater rivers and streams
In spring, adults migrate to the waterway in which they were born to spawn
Females lay 100,000 to 600,000 eggs over the course of several days. Eggs drift downstream and hatch in seven to 10 days
After spawning, adults either die or return to the ocean
Juveniles remain in nursery areas, where they feed on zooplankton and terrestrial insects
In early autumn, most juveniles leave the Bay for the ocean, where they remain for several years before returning to freshwater rivers to spawn
Lives 6 to 10 years
The American shad is the largest and most well-known shad species.
The largest American shad ever recorded was 2 feet, 6 inches long. The oldest American shad recorded in Maryland was 11 years old.
Shad roe (or eggs) were once considered a delicacy in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Shad have a tree named after them! The shadbush blooms in spring, close to the time that shad return to the Bay's rivers to spawn.