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  • Rock Creek Park

Featured Fish: American shad


What does it look like? The American shad is a silvery fish with a row of dark spots along the side.  It has sharp saw-like scales along its belly and can reach up to 30” in length.

How long does it live? The American shad has an average life span of five years.

What does it eat? Adults eat plankton, smaller crustaceans, and small fish.  During their migration upriver, they don’t eat anything.  Juveniles eat zooplankton and insects.

Where does it live? Shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, but return to freshwater rivers and tributary streams (like Rock Creek) to spawn.  Underwater grasses serve as nurseries for the fish.

How is threatened? Barriers in the creek used to make the journey upriver to spawn difficult for the shad.  For the journey upriver, fish need low barriers, resting pools, and water flow that is neither too fast nor too slow.   Dams like the historic Peirce Mill Dam can block fish seeking to swim upstream.  In 2003, the National Park Service removed three abandoned sewers lines and two concrete fords that were blocking fish migration.  They also lowered another historic ford to increase the depth and flow of water over the ford.  At the Peirce Mill, a fish ladder was installed to help the fish move upstream.  These changes help shad and other fish journey upriver to spawn.   The American shad has also been threatened historically by overfishing.  Harvest of American shad is currently not allowed in Maryland or Washington, DC.

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