American Shad

A fish that lives in saltwater but returns to freshwater to spawn.  Examples include: American shad, blueback herring, and alewife.

click fish to enlarge
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(Alosa sapidissima)
American Shad drawing
(Alosa aestivalis)
Blueback Herring drawing
(Alosa pseudoharengus)
Alewife drawing
(Morone saxatilis)
Striped Bass drawing



Embrey Dam Removal
On Monday, February 23, 2004, a 100-foot section of the Embrey Dam on the Rappahannock River was breached.
Embrey Dam Breaching.  Photo by Lee Walker, VDGIF.Video of the Breaching

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Please select your connection speed to view video of the Embrey Dam breaching (will launch in a new window):

This initial breaching was an important first step toward complete removal, to be accomplished by spring 2006.  Breaching the dam will reopen 106 miles of historical spawning habitat on the Rappahannock and its tributaries to a number of species including American shad, blueback herring, alewife, hickory shad, and striped bass.

Brief history of Embrey Dam

PHOTO: Embrey Dam, on the Rappahannock River, was constructed in 1910.Embrey Dam, 22 feet high, was constructed in 1910, replacing a crib dam dating back to 1853.  Until recently, the dam provided water to a Virginia Electric Power Company power station as well as supplied drinking water for the city of Fredericksburg by way of a historic navigational canal.  With the dam in place, the Rappahannock River is impassible above Fredericksburg to anadromous fishes during their annual voyage from the Chesapeake Bay, causing many miles of potential spawning habitat to be lost.

View a timeline of efforts that led to removal
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Why is removal of the dam important?

Annual monitoring indicates that shad and herring populations in Virginia are severely depressed.  The total number of pounds of American shad caught in the James, Rappahannock, and York Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay declined sharply from 8 million pounds in 1900 to a mere 5,000 pounds in 1990, due in part to loss of spawning habitat caused by dam construction.

Breaching Embrey Dam will reopen 71 miles of the mainstem Rappahannock River and 35 miles of the Rapidan River, a major tributary, for a total of 106 miles of historically known spawning and rearing habitat for migratory shad and herring. Several additional miles on smaller tributaries will also be accessible.  Anadromous fish populations may eventually return to, or near, historic levels with fish passage, supplemental stocking, and a harvest moratorium all contributing to the recovery.

This population increase will have important recreational and commercial impacts.  Many of these species also contribute to the food chain as forage for predatory fish and provide a marine-based energy source to freshwater systems. The catadromous American eel (opposite of anadromous) and other migrants such as striped bass will benefit too.

The Rappahannock River is one of Virginia's top destinations for smallmouth bass angling, canoeing and camping along an almost completely unspoiled historical river corridor. Virginia designates the Rappahannock River as a "State Scenic River".  About 24,000 angler visits totaling nearly 100,000 hours of fishing pressure are accommodated annually above Fredericksburg and Embrey Dam.

PDF version - 1.2 megabytes JPEG version - 90 kilobytes MAP: Present vs. New Migratory Fish Habitat.  Click to enlarge (PDF or JPEG).Results from other fish passage projects

In 1999, Bosher's Dam on the James River in Richmond was equipped with a vertical slot fishway.  Fish counts taken by VDGIF show that, by opening some 137 miles of historic spawning habitat on the James, American shad passings increased steadily from 185  in 1999 to 1066 in 2002.

Present vs. New Migratory Fish Habitat Map

High Resolution PDF
(1.2 MB)
    Low-resolution JPEG
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City of Fredericksburg
Army Corps of Engineers - Norfolk District
Chespeake Bay Program (EPA)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Friends of the Rappahannock

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