Fish and Aquatic Conservation

illustration of an American shad

American shad

Alosa sapidissima, (Wilson, 1811)

Cool Facts

The maximum reported age for American shad is 13 years. The Latin name for the American shad means “delicious.” Both the flesh and the roe of this highly coveted species are considered prized “table fare.” The towns of Essex and Windsor Connecticut hold annual shad festivals. The American shad is both an important commercial fish as well as a popular sport fish. American shad are very high in “Omega-3” fatty acids.

SIZE: Common length for female adult shad is 61.7 cm (24.3 in) and common length for male adult shad is 50 cm (19.7 in). The maximum reported length for an American shad is 76 cm (29.9 in). The maximum published weight for American shad is 5.5 kg (12 lbs. 2 oz.)

RANGE: The historic distribution of the American shad extends from southeastern Canada in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the St. Lawrence River south to central Florida in the U.S. There have also been introductions of American Shad in the Pacific along the west coast of the North America. American shad can now be found from Cook Inlet in Alaska southward to Baja California in Mexico. They can also be found along the Kamchatka Peninsula.

HABITAT: Adult American Shad spend the majority of their lives in the ocean. Non-spawning adults are usually found in schools near the surface of continental shelf waters in spring summer and fall. These fish can also be found in coastal brackish waters.

DIET: American shad feed on plankton, mainly copepods and mysids and occasionally on small fish. Feeding ceases for adult shad when they begin to migrate into brackish and freshwater for their spawning runs.

Natural History

American shad is an anadromous species indigenous to the western Atlantic Ocean and the east coast of Canada and the United States. American shad are broadcast spawners and spawn multiple times. As adults, they inhabit the Atlantic Ocean and then migrate into the east coast rivers of Canada and the United States to spawn.

Adult American shad enter to rivers to spawn as early as November in Florida and as late as May or June in northern waters depending on water temperatures. The peak spawning temperatures for American shad is 18.5 degrees Celsius (65.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Spawning normally occurs at sundown and continues until after midnight.

Spawning behavior includes a pairing of the male and female fish, which is followed by the pair swimming close together and releasing their eggs and milt simultaneously. Adult American shad normally descend from these tributaries shortly after spawning.

After hatching, the young American shad will descend from their natal streams in the fall. Juvenile American shad, upon reaching lengths of 20 to 30 mm will begin to form schools for their downstream migration


The American shad is a Federal Trust fish, meaning that the Federal government has some responsibility for its restoring them. The American shad is protected under the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act and restoration efforts are underway from Maine to Virginia. The restoration of American shad in eastern Atlantic rivers is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other Federal agencies, State fish and wildlife Agencies located within the watershed, non-governmental organizations and the fishing industry. Management practices facilitating this restoration process include conservation stocking and habitat restoration, especially as well as the removal of stream and river barriers and the building fish of passage facilities.