Amercian Shad

The American Shad has been described as 'the fish that fed the (American) nation's founders'.

American Shad
The American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) is a species of ‘anadromous clupeid‘ fish naturally distributed on the North American coast of the North Atlantic, from Newfoundland to Florida and as an introduced species on the North Pacific coast. The American Shad is not closely related to the other North American Shads.

Information & Facts:

Life Cycle & Facts

The American Shad spends most of its life in the Atlantic Ocean, but swims up fresh rivers to spawn. Northern populations are iteroparous, thus they may survive breeding, return to the sea and then return to freshwaters to spawn several more times.

However, southern populations exhibit semelparity, similar to Pacific Salmon. In the marine environment, Shad are schooling fish. Thousands are often seen at the surface in spring, summer, and autumn. They are hard to find in the winter, as they tend to go deeper before spawning season in the range 13–18 °C (55–64 °F); they have been pulled up in nets as deep as 65 fathoms (119 m).

The spawning fish select sandy or pebbly shallows and deposit their eggs primarily between sundown and midnight. Females release eggs in batches of about 30,000 eggs, though it has been estimated that as many as 156,000 eggs are deposited by very large fish. Total annual egg production is 200,000–600,000 eggs per female with larger fish producing more.

In rivers north of Cape Fear the spent fish, now very emaciated, return to the sea immediately after spawning. In southern rivers, most Shad die after spawning.

The eggs are transparent, pale pink or amber, and being semi-buoyant and not sticky like those of other herrings, they roll about on the bottom with the current. The eggs hatch in 12 to 15 days at 52 °F (11 °C), in six to eight days at 63 °F (17 °C), which covers the range characteristic of Maine and Bay of Fundy rivers during the season of incubation.

The larvae are about 9 to 10 millimetres (0.35 to 0.39 in) long. Juvenile shad remain in the rivers until fall, when they move down to salt water; they are now 1 1⁄2 to 4 1⁄2 inches (38 to 114 mm) long, resembling their parents in appearance.


Like other Herrings, the American Shad feeds primarily on plankton, but will also eat small shrimp and fish eggs. Occasionally they eat small fish, but these are only a minor item in their general diet.


The sexually mature American Shad enter coastal rivers in spring or early summer, usually when the river water has warmed to 50 to 55 °F (10 to 13 °C). Cooler water appears to interrupt the spawn. Consequently, the Shad run correspondingly later in the year passing from south to north along the coast, commencing in Georgia in January; in March in the waters tributary to Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds; in April in the Potomac; and in May and June in northern streams generally from Delaware to Canada.

In large rivers, such as the Connecticut, American shad run far upstream. American Shad have been found 375 miles (600 km) upriver.

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American Shad
American Shad
Conservation Status
Conservation Status

Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Family: Clupeidae
Subfamily: Alosinae
Genus: Alosa
Subgenus: A. (Alosa)
A. (A.) sapidissima
Binomial Name

Alosa (Alosa) sapidissima