Woo's Shad Fishing
Old Articles of Interest
Too Little, Too Late

by J.B. Kasper

Trenton Times, Friday, December 12, 2008

I got an interesting e-mail this past week that pertains to the future of the shad and herring populations in the Delaware River. This past year I attended a public hearing on the herring populations along the Atlantic Coast that painted a bleak picture of the overall herring stocks that spawn in rivers from Maine to the Carolinas. As reported in a previous story, herring stocks are at an all time low and are now some 90 percent below what they were 20 years ago. Likewise, the shad population is also at similar lows. I guess there is no need to tell anyone who fishes the Delaware River that those declines are being seen in the Delaware River Drainage System. One look at the amount of fishermen who have been fishing for shad the last few years will tell you that!

The major part of the decline in both fisheries in the Delaware River started back in the late 90's following the record years for both fisheries in the late 80's and early 90's. Other people who spend a lot of time on the river and I warned the Fed, as well as the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, that there was a problem with both fisheries. Needless to say, it fell on deaf ears. The Fed continued to allow ocean intercept fishing for shad in the 90's, which had risen over 60 percent, while they took two years to develop a shad management plan, after which they took five years to phase out the ocean intercept fishing for the shad. All this on a fish that spawns on a four year cycle. You don’t have to be a math expert to figure out why the shad are in trouble.

Likewise, the herring fishery has been on a steady decline for 20 years. Huge increases in the striped bass, cormorant and heron populations in the Delaware River coupled with over fishing by bait fishermen who sell the herring as bait along the Jersey coast contributed significantly to the decline in the river’s herring population. So what did the state of New Jersey do? Take for ever to put a 6-fish bag limit on shad, (several years after PA did it) lower the herring bag limit from 50 to 35 and continue to make up excuses for why the fishing was not good, while saying both herring and shad were in good shape in the river.

In the two e-mails I got, it stated that that wonderful example of bureaucracy, the Delaware River Basin Commission, released a study saying that they are recommending a 3-fish bag limit on shad and a 10 fish bag limit on herring to be implemented in 2010. I remember making a similar proposal 5 years ago to the New Jersey Fish and Game Council when there was still something left of both fisheries to save. I should point out at this time that five states have already closed their herring fishery and several states have way stricter regulations on their shad fishery. This is how serious some other states take the status of both fisheries.

If the measures being proposed would have been enacted five years ago, we might already be seeing significant increase in the herring fishery. Because the shad spawn on a four year cycle it will take a lot longer with them. However, putting them in effect in 2010 is simply too little, too late. Both New Jersey and PA need to closed their herring fisheries and make the shad fishery a catch and release only fishery now, while there is still something left. Once either or both fisheries start to rebound we could gradually reopen them up with reasonable bag limits.

Space considerations will not allow me to elaborate more on the herring and shad situation, but it will suffice to say action is needed now, not in 2010.

You can reach us with your fishing or hunting reports, comments or questions by e-mail at jb.kasper@verizon.net or jbkasper@hotmail.com; or by mail at J.B. Kasper c/o The Times, 500 Perry St., Trenton, NJ 08605.


11/16/09 Bill McWha of the DRSFA solicited stories to reflect the current status of the herring and shad populations to present at the New England Fisheries Management Council meeting today. Below are some of the sad stories that he recived. Good luck at the meeting, Bill.

Bill McWha

http://www.newburyportnews.com/puopinion/local_story_316233542.html?keyword=secondarystory

Herring health of utmost importance

To the editor:

As a tuna fisherman, I know all too well how important Atlantic herring are as a forage stock in the Gulf of Maine. Bluefin tuna travel thousands of miles to come here and feed during the summer and fall. While these tuna will eat many different species when they are off our coast, what they really come for is herring. This was made very clear in the last decade.

During the '90s, large pair trawlers began showing up off the coast, displacing the traditional purse seine fleet as the predominant gear type used to catch herring. These boats are very large — the largest in the region — and tow massive nets between two boats (hence the name "pair trawling"). While the herring and tuna fleets were always able to coexist, these new boats did a lot of damage to the herring resource, and this was seen clearly by the decline in landings in the bluefin fishery. There was an inversely proportionate relationship between tuna landings and the increase in use of pair trawling in the herring fishery. Not only did landings drop, but the fish that were caught were thinner and of lower overall quality — a result of having too little to eat.

The bottom line is that our tuna fishery here in New England is completely reliant on the health of the herring resource. And while I am a tuna fisherman and therefore my focus is on tuna, the same relationship is seen between herring and the other fisheries in this region. The groundfish stocks have been under a "rebuilding" regime for years now, and countless rules have been put on the groundfish fishery, but without herring these fish will never rebuild fully, as they eat herring too. Stripers, bluefish, whales, birds and just about everything else in the Gulf of Maine eat herring too. As herring health goes, so goes everything else.

So it is with great interest that myself and others who make a living from the ocean are following the developments at the New England Fishery Management Council regarding management of the herring fishery. While we have been saying for years that there are not a lot of herring out there, the science has now caught up to our so-called "anecdotal" observations. This summer, a new assessment was done, showing that the biomass is lower than once thought and that as a result, quota cuts are needed. At its meeting later this month, the NEFMC will be voting on herring quotas for 2010-2012, and there is some concern as to whether the managers will heed the scientific advice or not.

As someone who knows how important herring are to all the fisheries in this part of the country, I am hopeful that they will do what is needed and will look out for the long-term health of this stock. With so much work being put into management of stocks such as groundfish, tuna and other stocks, the last thing we need is for the food source to be wiped out.

Steve McNally

Amesbury


Bill,

As I recall I fish for shad in the Delaware River each spring and have noted that the herring are not as plentiful as they  once were as well as the shad were in the 1990's. I recall days where you hooked and released more herring on some outings that you caught shad. Many days these catches were in the 40-50 range as a bycatch while fishing for shad on spoons. Now it's hard to catch 4-5 on a given day during the herring run while fishing for shad.
I beleive that the ocean & bay netters are to blame as well as the large amount of striped bass in the rivers and oceans.

Hope this response outlines the drastic drop in the herring population in the Delaware.

Thank you,

Kevin Ingram, volunteer and member DRSFA



Bill,
There’s no fish in my river anymore!!

1978 – As a 17th old avid fisherman living near the Delaware River I became hooked on Shad fishing on a day in early May.  Fishing alone, I climbed down the river bank to an outcropping of some rocks armed with a 7’ medium action rod loaded with 8 lb test line and a handful of ¼ ounce red and white shad darts.  I had read about the techniques to catch shad and made a cast quartering upstream.  Reeling slowly I worked the shad dart downstream until it started to swing to the end of the cast.  Then it happened!!  Bang, my first ever shad had taken the dart.  This fish took to the air a couple times before I was able to bring it to the net, a beautiful 5 lb American Shad.  Quickly I put the fish on the stringer and climbed down to the rock at river’s edge for another cast.    On this cast, early in the drift the dart stopped and I was sure I was snagged on the bottom, until it started moving.  This fish stripped line off the reel heading towards deeper water.  After a few minutes the fish rolled at the surface and it was huge.  After what seemed like 30 minutes that shad also came to the net.  This fish was easily pushing 7 lbs.  I added this fish to the stringer and then over the next hour caught and released 7 more shad.  A new shad fisherman was born.

1978-1982 These are what I would call my shore-bound years.  Donning waders I spent every opportunity I had to be on the river casting for American Shad.   I had fishing spots spreading 40 miles south and north of Easton, PA.  Early in the season I would drive south to find the early schools of fish.  Later in the season I would head north chasing the last of the schools.  No longer were there many fishing spots where you were the only fisherman.  Popular fishing locations would see 15-20 guys lined up every 5 feet.  Fishing for shad was incredible.  All throughout the day at least one or two guys would be fighting a fish.  When a large school of fish came through it was like bluefishing on a NJ party boat.  10 or 15 fish being fought at the same time.  During these times I always noticed the guys fishing in the boats catching fish at twice the rate as us shore-bound fisherman.

1983-1987 These are the small boat years and introducing my father to shad fishing.  My father was starting to get interested in fishing and really did not enjoy wading in the river and casting for shad.  Him and I scraped together $1000 dollars and went out and bought a 12 foot aluminum boat with a 20 year old 7.5 hp Johnson outboard motor.  We did not have enough money for a boat trailer so we car-topped that boat for the first year.  Learning the different techniques for catching shad from a boat we managed to have a few absolutely incredible years catching fish.  Fishing two poles each it was a daily occurrence of having two or three fish on our lines at a time.  We had days where we caught 40-50-60 fish including many fish over 6.5 lbs.   We were not alone catching fish.  In our stretch of the river in Easton, PA there would be 50-60 boats out there.  It did not matter where you were anchored, everyone managed to catch fish.  The guys that were the “experts” easily caught over 100 fish a day.  Catch and release by this time was the norm.  We all soon discovered that shad were much better to catch and release than to eat.

1988-2001 We’re going to need a bigger boat era and the beginning of the end.  Dad and I upgraded the boat in 1988.  I bought a 16’ Grumman which allowed us to finally sit next to each other as we fished.  This is also the beginnings of using fish-finders on the boat to see what was traveling under the boat.  The first few years here fishing continued to be great.  We often questioned the fishfinder’s accuracy.  When we had the fishfinder on with the “fish alarm” set the unit would constantly show blips on the screen and a beep indicating fish moving under the boat.  We just could not imagine that there were that many shad running up the river.  Shad fishing over these years saw a steady decline.  My dad and I continued to catch lots of shad but we noticed that it was not everyone catching fish anymore.  It seemed only the “experts” were putting together good numbers.  I guess Dad and I had graduated into the “expert” category. 

2002-2009 I guess this is the “I am going it alone period.”  My father suffered a heart attack and stroke in April 2002 a day after our first shad outing of the year.  While dad is in a nursing home I now had to go it alone.  Shad fishing in these years had their ups and downs but the real trend is a terrible spiral down.  No longer is the fish finder going crazy with schools of fish traveling under the boat.  Boat positioning in the river is now so important since the schools of fish are so small and concentrated along the channel edges.  No longer do you see 50-60 boats in my stretch of the river.  Today 5-10 is the norm.

2009-??  This is the WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT YEARS!! The biologists tell us the American Shad numbers are down.  We know this after our years of experience out on the river each and every spring.  The cause of the decline is hotly debated.  Is it the offshore trawlers, by catch of this or that, historic high numbers of Striped Bass?  No matter what is the cause, whether it be one of the above or all of the above something must me done NOW.  Let’s move forward and say all of the above and do something in each area to reduce the mortality of the American Shad.  We do not want to be reading the papers 20 years from now and have people talk about how great the American Shad fishing was back in the 1980’s when there WERE American Shad in the river. 

Us avid shad fisherman will continue to fish for shad until…

THERE’S NO FISH IN MY RIVER ANYMORE!!


MY PLEA:  My grandson is now 4 years old and I hope to introduce him to shad fishing over the next 10 years.  I would love to share my love of shad fishing with him.  PLEASE do whatever is necessary to restore American Shad numbers in the Delaware River to what they were in the early 1980’s.

Thank you,

Bob Vaughn
425 Spring St
West Easton, PA  18042
610-704-5220
bvaughnjr@aol.com

Lifetime member: Delaware River Shad Fisherman’s Association

Bill,

The year was 1991 and I had been fishing shad since moving to Bethlehem in 1984.  You might recall that April 21,1991 there was a full page article about me and downrigging for shad in the morning call.  Did I catch shad with Gary Conner in those days!   Most trips saw us catching 50 to 100 shad and the evening when I fished Easton with Tom Fegley we caught 17 in about 2 hours.  The good fishing continued and the following year we caught 150 shad the day Tom (50 with Tom in the boat) fished with Gary and myself at New Hope which promped him to write another article and then have me featured in the Pennsylvania Angler March 1992 edition.  Most years Gary and I would catch 500 to 700 shad fishing evenings and weekends.

Starting about 2000 the fishing numbers started to go down.  The last three years, making 6 to 8 trips to the Delaware, I am lucky to land a total of 10 to 20 shad.  It's so slow that I thought about selling my boat. 

I doubt that I will ever see good shad fishing in my life time.

Ronald Bauer
610-837-4160


The areas I fish are in the lower from Trenton to New Hope.  In the last few years the shad catch for me has definitely declined.  I also fish in Maryland below the Conowingo Dam and have noticed a significant decline in my shad fishing success.

Mike Spontak
Westville, NJ  080093




Bill,
As I made phone calls to update our membership list,I had many people reply,"we went every year in the spring and had a wonderful time catching fish,now we do not go anymore because the fish are not there".

Dave Carl
Bill ...I have a herring story hopefully you can use it......I grew up along the Tohickon creek in Bucks county. In early May the creek would run thick with herring. Fifteen years later we do not see any not even one! There are not enough herring to even reach their prime breeding grounds. These fish are the base of the food chain...the canarys in the coal mine. What befalls the fish befalls the fisherman .

cc1st@comcast.net

When I moved to Nazareth, PA in the 1960’s,  my neighbor, John V. was excited that the American shad was returning to the Delaware River, following a reduction of pollution in the lower reaches of the river.  I didn’t know what a shad was and of course, never fished for one.

He took me shad fishing from shore near Easton, PA.  I caught two shad after dinner.  This scenario continued and sometimes we caught seven or eight just after dinner.  I gave up trout fishing except for the first week.  There was no comparison to the thrill of fighting, landing, and releasing that silvery trophy, always between 18 and 24 inches long.  As the years slipped by, the numbers became fewer and fewer.

I bought a boat, thinking that would solve the problem.  Not so.  Each year seemed to get progressively worse.   I joined the Delaware Shad Fisherman’s Association to find out more about shad and what affected the decline in fishing.

To make a long story short, I did not catch one shad in the last four years, except for this year when I accompanied our past president and noted shad fisherman, George Magaro, on his boat.   It seems that unless you have sophisticated electronics , to pinpoint the narrower paths of shad coming through,  the common fisherman doesn’t have much hope.

There were droves of boats and lines of boats waiting at the ramps.  No longer.  The shad are gone, so are the boats and most of the fishermen.  Some Shad Festival Contests still attract fishermen, but for the wrong reasons.  The days when you would be able to walk up the river after dinner and be able to catch a shad with your young boys at your side and help them land a shad are long gone.  There are so few shad now days that youth do not have an opportunity to “Get hooked on shad.”

Let’s DO something about it!  NOW!  Establish low cost shad hatcheries dedicated to the Delaware River in each bordering state.  Control the ocean by-catch.  Stop stocking predator fish.  Don’t study for three years and then take 5 years to implement a plan. Remove dams to spawning tributaries.  DO IT NOW!  Already natural shad stocks are so low that it will take many years to restore the shad.  Stop taking out and start PUTTING IN!!

Dave Bittner
From the 1970s till the early 1990s it was common for alewives to be caught by shad anglers from the Worthington State Forrest (Just upstream from the Delaware Water Gap) to Milford, PA.  Not a lot were caught, but the size of lure used precluded very many of them getting the hook in their mouths.  When the water was low and clear and the sun shinning brightly, we sometimes would see schools of approximately 50 to 200 alewives migrating past us.  One of the oddest things I ever saw was a solitary shad in the middle of a school of herring.  It was reminiscent of Saturn surrounded by rings.  I only heard of one alewife being caught, by an angler, in this same area, during the 2009 season and have not personally caught any for over five years, let alone seen any.

God Bless You,                                     Richard Fasanello, 70 State Rt. 31N, Washington, NJ
Over the past two decades I enjoyed casting small bare gold hooks into the Delaware River at the Point Pleasant eddy Jersey side for herring they were there by the thousands. They are gone! There's No Fish In My River Anymore.


John Mizin
Frenchtown, New Jersey
As a guide from the Lackawaxen River area i no longer fish for Shad. I remember the days in the 80`s and early 90`s when 4 rods going off at the same time was a normal thing. Now you can fish all day during the run and maybe have a fish on now and then. Let`s face it most of us will no longer see those glory days of American Shad fishing again. Us sportsmen are not the cause of the Shad Run destruction. I wish we could get some real answers so that the the fishery could once again be what was. So much for catch and release you can`t release what you can`t catch. ~~~~Rob Gronowski   Life~Time  DRSA Member! PS: Our Fish and Game managment is one poor waste of money!!!!!!
Bill:  For the past two summers I have driven to the bridge crossing the Delaware River at Damascus and have not observed any fishermen in the parking lot at the boat ramp, boats on the water, or fish migrating in the river from the bridge overhead.  Ray Luce, Holland, PA
Wild Bill,
J.B. Kasper, a Delaware River Fishing guide for 40+ years, said at our
September meeting he used to catch bait in his traps in the Delaware River
tributaries.
Juvenile shad comprised the bulk of his traps yield but he hasn't caught
one in over 12 years.
Good indicator of the desperate plight of our foundation forage fish and
our founding fish- the American Shad!
jmberry

I am an avid striper and shad fisherman fishing both the Delaware River and the ocean beaches of Cape Cod. I also have a small internet business linked to striper and shad fishing.  Due to over population of seals, and mismanagement of the striper population there are hardly any fish on the  CC beaches. I used to fish every day. Now I hardly ever fish. The shad rivers I fish are heading in the same direction. Every year the runs are producing fewer and fewer fish. Will I have to take up a new favorite pastime and business or will something finally be done to turn around this awful situation?

Peter L. Groves AKA Woo, South Orleans, MA  www.Woofish.com woofish@yahoo.com

By Peter Kaizer
November 16, 2009
 

MAKING A living as a fisherman today requires adaptability, but it is impossible to adapt to loss of a crucial species. One adjustment I made 12 years ago was to spend a significant part of my year doing charters. I’ve been fishing out of Nantucket Island for 30 years. I still fish commercially on my 35-foot boat, mainly for bluefin tuna, but I spend most of the summer and early fall chartering for striped bass and other sport fish.

One thing that none of us - fishermen or charter clients - can adapt to is the overfishing and depletion of the herring stock. Atlantic herring has been the main forage fish for nearly all species, especially the tuna and striped bass I rely on. All is not well with herring populations, and the time to take precautionary action is long overdue. Independent regional fishery scientists, who are legally charged with advising the government, have spoken in one voice that we need to back off of the herring stock immediately.
Small boat fishermen like me have been sounding the alarm about the herring stock for years, especially on Nantucket Shoals, and trying to convince fisheries managers that the creation of an industrialized, midwater trawl herring fleet in our local waters was a big mistake. These giant ships are just like the foreign fleets that plundered these waters and nearly wiped out herring populations once before, in the late 1970s. Recovery took more than a decade, and for some reason we promptly invited other industrial ships in to fish in our waters again.

Industrial midwater trawlers drag a giant mesh net for herring, usually behind two boats in a practice called pair trawling. Most nations either ban the practice or push it far offshore. But we have experienced a “bait and switch’’ with this fishery. This fleet was supposedly created to work offshore on a large and robust body of herring on Georges Bank. But instead, it has gradually taken over sensitive inshore areas. Administrators even gerrymandered management boundaries a few years ago to redefine the offshore fishery to include waters just off Chatham, as well as a huge swath of Nantucket Shoals and the Great South Channel east of Nantucket that used to be considered inshore herring grounds.

So it’s no surprise that in addition to that independent scientific review calling for an overall reduction in herring quotas of 40 percent, another government panel has found that the critical inshore component of the herring stock, the one that sustains my livelihood, has been chronically overfished and is also in need of precautionary cuts. The warning is loud and clear. Two groups of scientists, two approaches, one scientific conclusion: Cut the quotas or risk the depletion of the number one forage food for the fish and marine mammals of New England.

The New England Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service are charged with endorsing and implementing this science. The law is clear that the science must be followed, but these organizations are under a lot of political pressure to avoid precautionary reductions. A council committee already voted to include an option to completely ignore one of them. The council should step away from that slippery slope and mandate the reduced quotas recommended by the scientists to ensure a sustainable biomass of herring. The fisheries service must, in turn, implement that decision as the law requires.

Some say that these scientific warnings are based on “bad science.’’ On the contrary, the science is solid and the most recent scientific analyses have confirmed three things: a continuing downward trend in herring biomass, too much pressure on the inshore component, and a consistent tendency to overestimate the population’s health in the past. These things, especially the latter, have led government scientists to conclude that there is enough uncertainty about the size of the biomass that quota reductions are needed. To be clear: this uncertainty is not the same as bad science.

At its meeting tomorrow, the council must adopt the quota reductions as proposed by the scientists in order to ensure healthy and sustainable herring populations. The council must also prioritize completion of a comprehensive catch-monitoring program for the herring fishery, so we can get rid of this uncertainty.

Peter Kaizer is captain of F/V Althea K out of Nantucket, and a member of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association.

bostonglobe/editorial_opinion

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1/6/10 Umpqua River shad in Oregon