Electrofishing helping Shad in the James

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A fish called the American Shad is trying to make a comeback in the James River. But it takes a special kind of technology to monitor the recovery of this fish that once dominated the river.

Alan Weaver has a dream job. The poor anglers, lining the James River, watch enviously while they catch fish the old fashioned way. Alan's technique guarantees a sizeable catch. He has a generator that pumps electricity straight into the water out of metal tentacles.

"The juice basically that we put in the water, stuns the fish so we can net the fish," said Alan.

They are momentarily stunned by the electric current.

"The fish have an involuntary response to swim toward the probe which makes it easier to catch the fish," he said.

Alan doesn't catch and eat these fish. He and his team from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Measure and Release. Trying to determine if the American Shad are making a comeback.

They find plenty of Hickory Shad in the river, but a Hickory is smaller than an American. And it doesn't swim as far upstream.

"Numbers of American Shad dwindled drastically in the mid 20th century due to over fishing,(and) dam construction," said Alan.

But a ban on commercial fishing and dam removal spurred a recovery that peaked seven years ago. Now scientists want to know why American Shad numbers are shrinking again.

"Since 2002-03, numbers have kind of been going down again. Continuing to stock, continuing to provide fish passage, hopefully looking for that increasing trend," he said.

But why is this important? First: the American Shad is an important part of Virginia's history. A connection to the pre-colonial era. Second, a fish that spends it's life in the ocean brings back nutrients from the sea. It feeds other wildlife, like Osprey.

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