American Shad

Ark of taste
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American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is the largest New York herring variety, an important commercial and sport fish in the Hudson River. The origin of the Latin name sapidissima means “most delicious.” Shad are 35 – 74 cm long with a distinguishing feature of a long upper jaw tip extending beyond the eye. It has silvery iridescent body with 4-6 black spots on the side. Shad is an anadromous (meaning “running upward”) fish. They spend years in ocean waters until reaching maturity, and then travel for 8 – 10 weeks to the freshwaters of the Hudson River to spawn. Males mature in 3 – 5 years and females in 5 – 7 years. After spawning, the adults return to the Atlantic and rejoin the larger migratory populations along the Atlantic Coast from Canada to Florida. Spawning areas are sandy or pebbly shallows, and females release about 30,000 eggs. Shad spawn from May to early June in New York.   The fish’s diet is small marine creatures including shrimp, zooplankton, insects and small fish. The fish is deliciously sweet in taste and is valued for both its meat and eggs or roe. It can be prepared in a number of ways, and two traditional preparations include pickling and salting. It is high in Omega 3, containing nearly twice as much per unit as wild salmon. Shad roe is high in cholesterol and moderate in calories. The egg sac is crimson in color. The main culinary challenge in using the fish is the number of bones in the fish numbering about 700 making it one of the boniest fish in the world.   Native Americans and the early settlers valued American shad both as a food and for its benefits as fertilizer. In multiple Native American tribes there is folklore telling that the shad originated from the porcupine, either by fleeing into the water or being changed by the Great Spirit. Native Americans used nets and traps for fishing shad, and taught these methods to early settlers. Traditional recipes for “cake fish,” incorporating ingredients of corn and beans and serving the roe with acorns can be found. Later in American history, renowned painter Thomas Eakins depicted shad fisherman at work in the famous 1881 painting entitled “Shad Fishing at Gloucester on the Delaware River,” and the state of Connecticut chose Shad as their state fish.   Fishing for American shad was one of the oldest traditional industries on the coast of North America. At one time it was an abundant and an inexpensive source of nutritious food for the people. American shad peaked in the 1940s and dramatically dropped to its present low. Harvest declined from 3.5 million pounds in 1944 to 101,000 pounds in 2001. There are several monitoring programs that have identified American shad as a declining stock. Regulations do not permit any commercial or pleasure fishing of shad in the Hudson River at this time, and catch and release practices are also prohibited.   Today, spawning stock is experiencing unacceptably high mortality, which has seriously reduced the abundance of adults and hence the production of young. Pollution and other human interference with waterways as well as infestation by Zebra mussels that have substantially reduced the plankton shad feed on have also negatively affected this species. The industry, culture and celebration of American shad must focus on its restoration. Festivals up and down the Hudson River dedicate their efforts now to conservation efforts with the proclamation “Please don’t eat shad, save the shad.”

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StateUnited States

New York