Study seen as key to shad, locks in southwest Georgia

BAINBRIDGE (March 6, 2008) -- The Alabama shad, once abundant enough to support commercial fisheries in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa, is now considered rare throughout much of its former range and listed as a species of concern by NOAA National Marine Fisheries.

State-listed in Georgia as threatened, this species now occurs only in the northern Gulf of Mexico and contributing coastal rivers, with the largest population found below Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam in the Apalachicola River.

In an effort to better understand how Woodruff Dam impacts the spawning success of Alabama shad, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Divisions Fisheries Management Section and the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit have been investigating how these fish interact with lock operations at the dam, which backs up Spring Creek and the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers to form Lake Seminole.

In March 2005, fisheries biologists began a three-year study by inserting a sonic transmitter into more than 50 of the anadromous Alabama shad. (Anadromous fish live mostly in the sea but spawn in freshwater.) The shad were tracked to determine their population size and behavior in relation to the Woodruff Dam lock using electro-shocking and observing fish as the lock filled and after its doors opened.

Numerous dams built along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin over the past 200 years have prevented Alabama shad from making their annual migration upstream to spawning grounds. The shads movements are very similar to salmon: They spawn in freshwater, migrate to the sea in six to eight months, and return to their birth location after two to six years at sea.

"This study helped us see exactly how much the existing hydroelectric and navigation complex of the dam and lock affect this fish species," said Ramon Martin, Wildlife Resources fisheries regional supervisor. "Thanks to the cooperative efforts of federal, state and private conservation organizations we have been able to evaluate the current status of this imperiled population and develop a plan that will benefit all anadromous species in the ACF river basin."

Results from the study sized the population of migrating Alabama shad in the Woodruff Dam tailrace at between 2,767 and 28,184 fish. An estimated 41 percent were successfully passed through the navigation lock, and fish relocated in the Flint River as far as Albany. Other anadromous fish including the striped bass and the Gulf sturgeon were also studied to determine the feasibility of passing through the lock.

Historical data on the Alabama shads migration and population is very limited, dating mostly to shad runs in the 1880s, Martin said. The former U.S. Fish Commission recorded commercial landings in the Mississippi River basin of 6,955 pounds from the Ohio River in Indiana and Kentucky in 1889, and 150 pounds from Alabama in 1902.

Wildlife Resources will continue to monitor Alabama shad and restore anadromous fish stocks in the ACF river basin. This project was partially funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the State Wildlife Grant Program, which is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal funds for states to develop and implement programs that benefit wildlife and their habitat, including species that are not hunted or fished.



Plan at a glance


Excerpts from the anadromous management plan developed by Georgia Wildlife Resources and other partners:

  • Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae) and Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) are anadromous species that occur in the northern Gulf of Mexico and contributing coastal rivers.
  • Overexploitation and loss of critical habitat to migration barriers contributed to declines in abundance of these species. Alabama shad is considered an imperiled species by the states and is designated a species of concern by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Gulf sturgeon is federally listed as threatened. Determining population size and restoring access to historic spawning areas are critical to the recovery of these species.
  • The existing hydroelectric and navigation complex may significantly impact anadromous fish behavior in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system. The number of individuals in spawning populations is perceived as critically low. The navigation locks at U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams in the Chattahoochee River (Jim Woodruff, George W. Andrews and W.F. George) may provide passage to migrating fish, but passage efficiency and factors influencing passage have not been evaluated. Determining how fish interact with these navigational dams during lock operation is critical to the development of a fish passage plan for the system. Also, fish passage at the two hydroelectric dams on the Flint River (Albany and Warwick dams) needs evaluation to restore access to anadromous fish spawning habitat throughout the entire basin.
  • Recovery of anadromous fish spawning runs in the ACF system will enhance the fishery resources, restore access to currently unavailable aquatic habitat and aid in the recovery of these two imperiled species. The project will encompass state agencies in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and The Nature Conservancy. This project has many future implications and may serve as a model in restoring declining anadromous fish stocks throughout the Southeast.

State-listed in Georgia as threatened, this species now occurs only in the northern Gulf of Mexico and contributing coastal rivers, with the largest population found below Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam in the Apalachicola River.