American Shad in the Columbia River

Publication Date



adult, Alosa sapidissima, American shad, Bonneville Dam, California, Columbia River, food, habitat, Hudson River, hydroelectric, hydroelectric dams, juvenile, ocean, reservoirs, salmonids, shad, Snake River, spawning

Journal or Book Title

American Fisheries Society Symposium


American shad Alosa sapidissima from the Hudson River, New York, were introduced into the Sacramento River, California, in 1871 and were first observed in the Columbia River in 1876. American shad returns to the Columbia River increased greatly between 1960 and 1990, and recently 2-4 million adults have been counted per year at Bonneville Dam, Oregon and Washington State (river kilometer 235). The total return of American shad is likely much higher than this dam count. Returning adults migrate as far as 600 km up the Columbia and Snake rivers, passing as many as eight large hydroelectric dams. Spawning occurs primarily in the lower river and in several large reservoirs. A small sample found returning adults were 2-6 years old and about one-third of adults were repeat spawners. Larval American shad are abundant in plankton and in the nearshore zone. Juvenile American shad occur throughout the water column during night, but school near the bottom or inshore during day. Juveniles consume a variety of zooplankton, but cyclopoid copepods were 86% of the diet by mass. Juveniles emigrate from the river from August through December. Annual exploitation of American shad by commercial and recreational fisheries combined is near 9% of the total count at Bonneville Dam. The success of American shad in the Columbia River is likely related to successful passage at dams, good spawning and rearing habitats, and low exploitation. The role of American shad within the aquatic community is poorly understood. We speculate that juveniles could alter the zooplankton community and may supplement the diet of resident predators. Data, however, are lacking or sparse in some areas, and more information is needed on the role of larval and juvenile American shad in the food web, factors limiting adult returns, ocean distribution of adults, and interactions between American shad and endangered or threatened salmonids throughout the river.





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