NEW YORK: No Shad For You

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.

8 thoughts on “NEW YORK: No Shad For You”

  1. “…..establish an acceptable number for sustainable harvest…” You are kidding, right?

    That is the exact management approach that has the shad in such trouble now. The concept of managing for maximum sustained yield (MSY) has been and sadly continues to be advanced and lobbied for by the commercial sector. The result is that nearly every fish stock on the East coast is in serious decline or already in doubt of ever recovering …..especially the Hudson River shad.

    That is what “…establish(ing) an acceptable number for sustainable harvest…” has created. – a fishery in jeopardy. Our managers, under pressure from commercial fishermen have always allowed for too many to be taken for too long. Someone has to stand up to these managers and the commercial pressure put on them and state that enough is enough before it really is too late.

    I’m reminded of a movie scene (can’t remember which movie) where everyone is walking around with their fly open but no one wants to or has the courage to say anything for fear of upsetting everyone else. Folks, we have endured this failed fishery management philosophy for too long and our fish stocks have suffered too much damage. It’s time to speak up, admit to the truth and change our ways.

    Most responsible sportsmen and women have a less myopic vision of resource management. Instead of a management philosophy being based on species exploitation (MSY) most responsible, recreational fishermen advocate for a management concept centered around species enhancement.

    Any species that is considered “fun to catch” but also swims around with a commercial price tag on it’s head …that species will always be subject to exploitation at the expense of the well being of the species. Until our fishery managers no longer have to answer to and be influenced by commercial fishing pressure this will always be so.

    The proposed State regulation eliminating all recreational fishing for shad yet still allowing commercial setting of non-discriminating gill nets for the taking of shad is just another example of why sport or game fish can not and should not be co-managed as both a recreational and a commercial resource.

    Make both striped bass and shad a recreational resource ONLY and they will flourish without the exploitive management pressure from commercial interests. Ban all gill nets and join the 21st century of fishery management.

  2. Dean,

    Before you overreact, did you read what I actually wrote? The part asking whether recreational anglers would be willing to sacrifice eating shad for a few years?

    I’m actually suggesting taking it a step further, and make it catch and release recreational only–with no commercial or recreational harvest–for a predetermined period to allow for a full meaningful recovery, and then placing severe restrictions on it after that closed period. How am I kidding about that?

    Who said anything about exploitation? I mentioned the word SUSTAINABILITY, as in creating a fishery that can sustain itself and thrive in the long term. And in saying an ACCEPTABLE number, I mean a realistic, non political, finite number that everyone is beholden to, commercial and recreational alike. I don’t think there’s anything exploitative about that.

    Way to go off on someone who is on your side.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for a while .I’m not going to try and debate with a man who makes his living with words .
    Our fishery problems are much more complex than a few men gillnetting for shad .Regulations should be regional and not state by state regulations .I f we are going to solve the problem and in this case specifically shad pressure must be taken off them through out their range and life cycle
    I think its unfair to single out just one of these pressures. Look at the fluke mess .NY ,Ct and Nj are all going to have different rugulations
    tom in Orient

  4. Crowldawg, you speak to a point that a lot of people noted about the tarpon spearfishing situation. It is legal to spearfish for them in Louisiana, or kill them while fishing recreationally. But killing such highly migratory fish there affects tarpon anglers in Mexico, Texas, Florida…A case where local regulations have a regional impact.

    As far as being unfairly singled out, Stripers Forever has taken the position that it is the recreational shad anglers who have been unfairly excluded in favor of commercial harvest by the State’s emergency measures. I believe that is a valid position. But I’m also asking, if the commercial harvest is suspended, would it also be better to allow no one to take fish from the river for an agreed upon finite period to allow the stock to best rebound? People were willing to do that to foster the recovery of striped bass.

    I’m not a catch-and-release fanatic; I eat fish that I’ve caught recreationally and I eat commercially sold seafood. But I’m all for finding the best way to prevent overfishing and help the long term prospects of an historically significant species like the American shad. So, what is the best way?

  5. Pete,
    I understand that you and I are both on the same side and are willing to “sacrifice” and have a moratorium put on the taking of any shad by any manner. If I jumped too hard/fast I apologize.

    The point that I think I did not make clear enough is: that as long as there are commercial, exploitive pressures put on the managers of any resource the tendency will be to take as much from the resource as is believed to be viable. This is done with little if any regard for the grossly imperfect science of fishery management or unpredictable natural variables. Most often this results in over-harvesting to the detriment of the resource, i.e. Hudson River shad and most East coast ground fish stocks.

    Take the price tags off their heads and the recreational pressures put on the managers will be based on a philosophy of conservative, species enhancement. History and human greed has proven this to be true many many times over.

    When it comes to the management of any commercially viable fish stock, at least on the East Coast, one can aptly apply Walt Kelly’s (?) famous line when Pogo declares, “We has met the enemy and they is us!”

    Remove the commercial fishing and the gill nets and the shad will have a chance but as long as they are being managed for their commercial value they will either 1) be at risk or 2) they will soon be gone.

  6. Dean, I understand your passion for this topic. Surely a lot of that comes from the striped bass arena.

    With the striper, it’s easy to look at the present and see what’s happening now after the rebound. There’s the frustration of watching commercial interests try to take advantage of the rebuilt striper stock and plunder it. “More fish, more for us to kill!”

    And you can see an attitude change on the recreational side, too, where some guys think, “The bass fishing’s better than ever, let’s load up the freezer and who cares if we take a few shorts? They taste better!”

    It’s like, here we go again.

  7. Pete,
    Thanks for answering me ,an unknown voice from cyberspace. I agree with you that if the stock is in that desperate shape the whole fishery should be closed .Closed to everyone
    You are right in your post above I watch guy after guy try to get around the law .If you are entitled to one fish than its one fish .
    Regarding bass in NYS I could never understand why I can only keep one bass when I catch it from my boat or the beach but if I buck up and go on a party boat or charter a trip I can keep 2

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