Courtesy of New Jersey Fish and Wildlife
Biologist Pat Hamilton holds a shad caught near the Warren Glen Dam on the Musconetcong River in Holland Township.The American shad is making an impressive come back to the Delaware River watershed.
For the first time in centuries, the American shad entered the Musconetcong River during its spring spawning migration upriver this year. The Musky, as it’s known to locals, is a tributary of the Delaware in Northwestern New Jersey. The Hughesville Dam, standing 18 feet tall and 150 feet wide, had blocked its way.
But with the dam demolished last September, the American shad, the largest of the herring family and an angler’s favorite, swam up the Musconetcong for the first time since colonial times.
“It tells quite a story that as soon as you remove a dam — at least on this river — the shad, the next opportunity, are right there,” said New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s principal biologist Pat Hamilton.
The Delaware Bay was once known as the oyster capital of the world. In the 1920s, there were about 600 boats fishing wild oysters from the bay. Today, there are only 12 oyster boats.
Delaware Bay oysters are on their way back after decades of decline. But questions remain on how climate change will impact the resurgence in the South Jersey towns once known for shipping oysters across the country.
Last century, the South Jersey communities of Bivalve and Shell Pile in Cumberland County, produced over 1 million bushels of oysters, or about 80 million pounds, a year. In 1905, there were 588 boats fishing wild oysters from natural beds in the bay. And oysters were shipped, by train, all over the country and up to Canada. In 2016, the oyster fishery harvested 100,095 bushels a year.
“At one time there were car dealers and movie theaters, and department stores, and tons and tons of speakeasies,” Bivalve Bayshore Center’s restaurant manager Sheri Gatier said. “(Bivalve) was a very big thing when the oyster industry was booming. Unfortunately, when (the oysters) died… it died.”