City of Brotherly Love Woos Shad With Stairway to Harem

By Lizzie Buchen | March 21, 2008 3:54 pm


The annual migration of the American shad just got a helping hand from Philadelphia, the city that sees the unsung, bony fish as a symbol of hope for its formerly polluted waterways.

The Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers near Philadelphia used to run dense with spawning shad every spring but pollution depleted parts of the waterways of oxygen, creating a barrier to the fish’s annual migration. In the decades since the Clean Water Act, the cleanliness of the Delaware and Schuylkill have made a big comeback.

Consequently, the Delaware’s seen a promising resurgence of shad, as reported in this colorful radio piece (mp3), but the Schuylkill remains vacant because of dams built along the riverway. To restore the shad to its native habitat, Philadelphia’s Fish and Boat Commission is building fish ladders, in which fish swim upstream over a series of wooden steps. The six-feet-per-second current is “fast enough to offer resistance but not overpower them. There’s a platform inside where the finny creatures can rest.”

A resting place for “finny creatures”? Someone set these guys up with a Pixar contract!

Image: A fish ladder in Bonneville. Credit: Bonneville Power Administration

MORE ABOUT: ecosystems, pollution
  • JT Lewis

    Forget Rocky–Philadelphians should line the banks of the river to cheer the return of Shad. Now THAT’s a heartwarming come-from-behind victory.
    As the mp3 piece notes:–:we are drinking the same water the dinosaurs did.

  • Sue

    The Shad MP3 piece is awesome! Great story and wonderfully informative. It should be a documentary. I love the “zero to hero to zero, but on it’s way back to hero again” line. Philadelphia’s fish has a great storyteller. The Shad piece should be one installment in a series.

  • Lauren

    I don’t get it…what’s so fascinating about this? I’m from Philadelphia, and I still don’t think it’s that special. Please don’t turn that mp3 into a series!

  • Michele

    Isn’t it time for Philadelphia to to known for more than it’s cheesesteaks? Baltimore crabs…Philly Shad???? Oh, but i digress. I thought the mp3 piece was amazing & would make a facinating documentary. Not only historical, but a sign of hope for today. Okay…maybe fish is not your idea of a favorite & exciting topic, but isn’t the fact that our rivers are getting cleaner & that these amazing fish have been returning to the waters we drink exciting? If you appreciate nature, wildlife , history & the state of our current eco system, then what is there not to appreciate in this piece?

  • Lauren

    Well, there are more exciting things going on in the world. Frankly, I didn’t even listen to the whole mp3 because it bored me.

    It’s clear that you three have a hard-on for whoever did the radio piece, so whatever.

  • Franco

    Wow, great piece, I have heard Ed Grusheski speak many times about the Philadelphia Water Works and it’s significance in allowing our city to thrive, and getting his message to other people is a great benefit to all. I personally believe any efforts to reintroduce natural species back into their natural habitats is aways a reason to get excited. I look forward to the day that our children can again see the local waterways as a source of recreation and learning.

  • Gene

    I thought it was a great story! I too think it would make a great documentary. Many people take the Delaware River for granted. It has only been since the 80’s that the river started to make its come back after years of pollution from Easton on down to the bay. Following the shad up the river are the herring and the strippers. All great fish to catch and the stripper great to eat. The money that the fishing is starting to bring into local towns, as word spreads across the country about the great fishing in the Delaware, is reason alone to celebrate.

    All in all it was a great story and well told. I would like to see it set with a video, or for that matter expanded into a documentary.

  • Lisa MZ

    What an interesting story, and how very important to Philadelphia and the planet. I remember shad roe as a kid – it was certainly a delicacy, not that I partook, but a memory nonetheless. I grew up in NY state on the Hudson River, and it is exciting to hear that our rivers are making a comeback. The MP3 piece was nothing short of creative, brilliant and informative – I agree w/ the other posters, what a great storyteller these lucky shad have! Another interesting piece is that Clean Water Action has done a tremendous amount of work in Philadelphia, and I think many other states reap the benefits. Wouldn’t it be terrific to see this story made into a series – many Philadelphians and beyond stand to learn a lot about these wonderful little scaly creatures and the integral role they place to our ecosystem. Stairway to Harem – for sure! :)

  • Philly Phil

    I’m younger, so I’ve never tasted shad or shad roe. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen it on a menu. As a food lover, I’d like to see these fish make a comeback so that I can give them a taste. I mean, did you hear in the piece that the Latin name for American shad is “most delicious”? Must be amazing!

    Then again, I think I’d feel really bad eating our Philly Fish that’s finally making a comeback. PLUS, it stands for cleaning up our water which is all too important. So how can I really eat one of these little guys?

    But then again…I do really want to know what it tastes like! This is turning into a serious dilemma.

    Great piece!

  • Keli

    It’s about time that Philadelphia gets the recognition for it’s efforts to improve the environment. I think a documentary on the ‘return of the shad’ could be both entertaining and enlightening. My Native American ancestors would be proud to know that ‘Mother Earth’ is being well cared for in Philadelphia.

    Although increasing the shad population in the Delaware won’t solve all the Worlds problems, showing how this critical first step improves our environment is important and worth the effort.

    I applaud your work and hope you can expand it.

  • Chris K

    I am glad to see positive news about how the Delaware river is being improved! We all need to be aware of how we treat our water. Let’s hope we can begin to do the same kind of things for the Schuylkill river too. More public exposure to these efforts is needed – and a well done documentary could help to drive this point home. Perhaps adding a well know local celebrity would be of benefit too!

  • Darlene

    Hi Chris:
    Thanks for the suggestion. Do you have a local celeb in mind? Are you affiliated with the water department?

  • Rufus

    It’s really nice to hear that our rivers are making a comeback. Hopefully some local restaurant (Bookbinders, I am looking in your direction) will add Shad to their menus.
    I for one would like to try this most delicious fish.
    In regards to adding a local celebrity to the documentary, I offer up the following names- Manoj Nelliattu Shyamalan, David Morse, King Britt, Johnny Louch and or
    Al Alberts.

  • Pingback: Shad: Philadelphia’s Fish. A Symbol of Hope for the Environment. | Science Cheerleader()

  • EllenB

    A positive step for this historic and important fish!


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