RD587 - A Framework for the Recovery of American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the James River, Virginia – November 2023

Executive Summary:

*This report was replaced in its entirety by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science on November 8, 2023.

American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) once supported one of the largest commercial fisheries along the Atlantic coast. American Shad historically held significant economic and cultural value in the Commonwealth, in addition to filling a critical ecological niche in Virginia’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The most recent American Shad stock assessment found that coastwide populations of American Shad were depleted, with overfishing, inadequate fish passage at dams, predation, pollution, water withdrawals, channelization of rivers, changing ocean conditions, and climate change indicated as possible causes

In the fall of 2021, the James River Association petitioned the Governor’s Office for an appropriation to be included in the 2022-2024 Executive Biennial Budget to provide “funding for VIMS to complete an emergency American shad recovery plan to address the population of shad in the James River." The goal of this effort was to guide future management decisions for the species and establish a road map for Virginia to restore American Shad in the James River and elsewhere in the Commonwealth. This was to be accomplished by reviewing the historical and current conditions of American Shad and evaluating threats to the species in the James River, including water quality and habitat limitations, water withdrawals, predation, migratory barriers, and bycatch among other potential management or policy areas.

Two meetings were held that brought together experts on American Shad, environmental policy, and fisheries biology and management, as well as other stakeholders and partners. This report documents the results of those meetings and the other efforts to provide a framework for recovery of American Shad in the James River. The following recommendations, together with identified lead agencies and collaborators, and estimated time frames and costs were identified by the group. The Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at William & Mary was contracted to identify legal authorities and opportunities for Virginia’s agencies, tribes or other stakeholders to implement varying management alternatives for American Shad and these recommendations are listed below and are incorporated into this report.

Recommendations for recovery of American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the James River, VA

• Continue annual sampling by VIMS, and the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), and other relevant surveys to monitor relative adult and juvenile abundance of American Shad and its phenology.

• Revisit or develop benchmarks for the VIMS Alosine Monitoring Program, the DWR Electroshocking Survey, and the DWR Boshers Dam Fish Passage Survey to evaluate progress toward recovery.

• Conduct genetic monitoring and analysis for American Shad in the James River.

• Expand sampling through DWR electrofishing surveys to include the Appomattox River to assess habitat use of these portions of the James River watershed by American Shad.

• Fund a study of the early life history of American Shad, including an inventory of the historical spawning habitat.

• Evaluate potential for restoration and/or enhancement of habitats in the James River that are critical for successful American Shad spawning, including benthic habitats below the fall line and prioritize funding for restoration of the most important habitats.

• Promote the use of the Governor’s Blue Catfish Processing, Flash Freezing & Infrastructure Grant Program to cover the additional costs incurred by catfish processors.

• Seek reversion to the FDA regulation for catfish processing rather than the USDA regulation.

• Determine bycatch of American Shad in fisheries in the Menhaden fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.

• Determine the impact on American Shad caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries in the James River, and the mortality of American Shad caught in targeted catch and release recreational fisheries of American Shad.

• Provide funding for a study to assess the individual and cumulative impacts of grandfathered water intake facilities on the population of American Shad in the James River and consider actions to mitigate any impacts.

• Require all unpermitted water intake facilities to submit data regarding actual withdrawal volume of intakes annually or even seasonally.

• Require new cooling water intake facilities to adopt additional technology and require additional monitoring to protect American Shad as a “fragile species".

• Evaluate the impact of permitted and proposed surface water withdrawal intakes within the James River on early life history stages of American Shad to determine cumulative effects and, if needed, enforce mitigation for large scale withdrawals.

• Determine the potential impact of small scale surface water removals on American Shad (e.g., agricultural and golf course irrigation systems), including collecting data on the number and distribution of pumps and the potential scale of losses through mesocosm experiments.

• Develop regional partnerships, including with tribal communities, in support of hatchery propagation of American Shad and other alosine fishes (e.g., river herring).

• Evaluate the temporal shifts in phenology, early life history, age and growth dynamics, and body condition of American Shad to determine if there are predictable trends related to its spawning stock abundance and recruitment.

• Evaluate the correlation between the abundance and body condition of American Shad during the coastal marine phase of their lives and those of fish that have returned to rivers to spawn.

• Explore potential shifts in abundance and timing of zooplankton by developing a multiyear zooplankton monitoring program within the Chesapeake Bay and coastal environments to determine the relationship between zooplankton and variation in American Shad stock abundance, structure, and/or condition.

• Determine predation on American Shad and their diet requirements in marine environments to clarify measures the could be undertaken to alleviate pressure on the population.