Forage Fish
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Closeup photo of American Shad with descriptions of identifying anatomy.

Forage Fish Identification Guide

American Shad
Alosa sapidissima

Commonly caught in the Columbia River by recreational fishers.   A small commercial gill net fishery exists on the Columbia River, where most fish are harvested for roe.  Rarely caught in the Puget Sound by recreational fishers but often caught during offshore sampling.  Rarely caught in rivers flowing into Puget Sound.  See the Sportfishing Regulation Pamphlet.

Description: The body of the American Shad is deep and ventrally compressed with a blue or blue-green back and upper sides, and silver below. They have a dark spot above the gill cover and a single row of dark spots along each side of their body above the lateral line.   They have a noticeable row of keeled scales on the belly, which can be used to distinguish American Shad from Pacific Sardine.  American Shad have a spineless dorsal fin that is short and consists of 15 rays, and a deeply forked tail.  They have toothless jaws that fit into each other.  

Maximum Size: To 76 cm (30 in) in length, and 5.5 kg (12.1 lbs) in weight.

Maximum Age: Up to 7 years.

Range/Habitat: American Shad are native to Atlantic waters but were introduced into several river systems including the Columbia, Snake, and Willamette rivers in the late 1800s.  They are commonly found from Washington State to the San Francisco Bay, but range as far north as Russia and the southeastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska to Southern California. American Shad are found from the surface to depths of 250 m (820 ft) and possibly deeper.  American Shad are anadromous and most return to natal waters to spawn. Juvenile American Shad live in estuaries for a few months to several years, after which they move out to sea.  They feed on insects and insect larvae, small fishes, and crustaceans.  Learn more about American Shad in Washington.


Photos: V. Okimura