The American shad occupies a large space in the cultural history of the Hudson River. Right now the prospects for shad in the Hudson pretty much suck. According to the New York DEC:
“Current data indicate the stock is at its historic low. The rise in adult mortality in the last 20 years coincided with a decrease in mean age, mean size, and stock size. Mortality rates on the adult stock remain high, well above acceptable levels. Recent poor recruitment is a major concern. Shad are vulnerable to a host of fisheries on the Atlantic coast during the entire duration of their ocean residency. Total ocean bycatch estimates remain unknown. Mortality on the stock needs to be reduced.”
To that end, the State put forth emergency measures last week, effectively closing the recreational harvest by enacting a catch-and-release season and curtailing the commercial harvest.
Stripers Forever, an organization of which I am a member, sent out an email alert blasting this measure. Here’s an excerpt of the letter it urges to send to the governor and appropriate representation:
“The membership of Stripers Forever is 100 percent in favor of conservation. It is unfortunately clear that all directed fishing for shad should be stopped in the Hudson River, and we know that recreational anglers will willingly support this measure. But the very idea that a citizen of this country should not be able to take home even one shad per season so that a handful of part-time commercial fishermen can set gill nets to catch enough to sell is counter to the very foundations of our free society. Essentially, the DEC is privatizing this resource; a citizen who wants a shad for a meal is forced, by law, to buy that fish from one of a select group that has essentially been given the right to the entire harvest.”
I support the organization’s premise that this amounts to the privatization of a community resource, and will write to ask that the State suspend the commercial harvest for a period, allowing the stock to rebound. But at this stage, with the stocks at historic lows, what kind of impact would taking one fish per angler have? Would that work for fish that live for five to seven years, but take three to four years to reach sexual maturity? If it doesn’t, would recreational anglers be willing to sacrifice a few years of eating shad in order to ensure the population rebounds for the future? It worked for striped bass and redfish.
Either way, it makes more sense for the State to establish an acceptible number for sustainable harvest and divide that between recreational and commercial interests or, failing that, to enact an appropriate-year moratorium on ALL fishing until the stocks rebound to a sustainable level.