Schuylkill R American Shad

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Mike

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The Fairmount Fishway opened in 1979. From that time forward it allowed some American Shad and over 30 other resident species, some in high numbers, to ascend Fairmount Dam, which is located at the head-of-tide, about 6-8 miles upstream from the Delaware R confluence. The natural head-of-tide on the Schuylkill would be upstream a few miles at the Falls Bridge, where you can still see the inundated large boulders that were once part of the substantial rapids known as "the falls."

Numbers of American Shad ascending the dam increased with PFBC fry stockings starting in the 1980's and continuing through the years in the Reading to Hamburg area. They substantially increased when the fishway was upgraded in 2008, which in many respects was a redesign and rebuild to meet more modern standards and operate more efficiently (passing a higher proportion if the fish located in the tail-race) despite daily fluctuations in water levels associated with tidal action. This was something that version 1 could not do.

Since the upgrade, counts of American Shad by the Philadelphia Water Department biologists have been much more impressive at times. From 2009-2017, inclusive, (minus two flood or equipment problem years of 2013-2014), American Shad adult upstream passage in spring has ranged from 771-3366 (avg 2039). Source: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 2020 American shad benchmark stock assessment and peer review report.

The remaining three dams in the lower Schuylkill heading upstream are Flat Rock (Gladwyn, Mntg Co), Norristown (Norristown, Mntg Co), and Black Rock (Phoenixville/Mont Claire, Chester and Mntg Co's). All have fish passage facilities, but only a handful of shad make it upstream past Black Rock each year. It is unknown how many make it past the middle two dams each year.
 
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Mike

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I should add that New Kernsville Dam on the Schuylkill just upstream from I-78 and Hamburg is scheduled to be removed this year. It is the tallest remaining dam on the river and a complete blockade to resident fish movement. Likewise, it also blocks American eel upstream movements. Note that along with the eels come freshwater mussels, which are beneficial in themselves and have probably been extirpated in portions of the Schuylkill and Little Schuylkill basins upstream from the dam.
 
Baron

Baron

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That would really be nice to have Shad back in the Lehigh. It would be nice to see them everywhere that they once occurred in. I never knew that eels were so important until reading about the weirs and the people that lived off of them. Thanks Mike.
 
JerryC

JerryC

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I'm about a 5 minute walk from the Schuylkill but haven't fished it since I was in high school. It's good to know the shad are coming back. My area is still in the pool from Fairmount Dam. Never really fished it but the stretch between Green Lane and Flat Rock dam might be a spot to try.
 
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Duff

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Jan 13, 2013
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Late to the party here - My own opinion is the Fairmont ladder is till not designed properly. I could not tell you what it should be. When they had the online camera in the ladder, you would see all kinds of fish migrating up. But what I witnessed was shad would pass by the camera, often in groups of 3 to 5. Just a few minutes later, you would see them washing back down on the surface. My guess is that the flow was too strong for them to enter the next chamber and they exhausted themselves. I wondered if that is why they no longer have the camera online.
 
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JeffP

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The fish camera was cool. I guess the camera is how they count so it must still be operational.
 
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Mike

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Duff, when you see the fish go past the window and then come back it is usually because the trash rack on the upstream side of the exit gate is jammed with debris such as sticks, leaves, tires, bags, logs, etc. and the fish can’t get through (escape the fishway into the river in an upstream direction). The window is at the top of the fishway, so there is only flat water ahead.
 
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