by Rachel Felver
November 17, 2017
The connection the Pamunkey tribe has with the Chesapeake Bay is evident when you begin to spot some of the 500 acres of wetlands that are part of the landscape of the Pamunkey Indian Reservation. The reservation itself sits on the shores of the Pamunkey River, a tributary of the York River, in King William, Virginia.
Many people outside of Virginia may not recognize the name Pamunkey, but it’s guaranteed they are familiar with their most well-known ancestor, Pocahontas. In 1607, the Pamunkey were once a tributary nation to Powhatan, a powerful alliance of Indian nations that existed when English settlers first arrived at Jamestown.
The Pamunkey are deeply invested in preserving their way of life, as well as the natural resources that surround them. One of their core beliefs is that if you take a fish from the water, then you should put something back. In 1918, this led the tribe to establish a hatchery on their land to raise and release young shad into the river. Historically, shad was once the most valuable finfish industry in the Chesapeake Bay, but overcrowding and the construction of dams that blocked them from their spawning ground have decimated the population.
A modern hatchery now exists on the reservation and each year, members of tribe work to place eggs from adult shad into tanks to hatch and then release them into the river. As a result, the Pamunkey River shad runs are some of the healthiest among the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
Learn more about the role of shad in the Chesapeake Bay region.