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Schuylkill River American Shad
Black Rock Fish Ladder opened April 6, 2016. Severe weather the previous week delayed the opening. Water temperature was 10°C (50°F).

In 2015, six American Shad passed at Black Rock. Five of the American Shad passed between May 6 and May 11. The last American Shad passed on June 12.

Norristown Fish Ladder opened on March 11, 2016.

While native to the Schuylkill River and its tributaries, American shad have not ascended the Schuylkill since 1820, when the Fairmount Dam was constructed.


Restoring migratory fish to the Schuylkill is the right thing to do. In fact, it means more than just restoring an ecosystem or the natural balance of the fishery. Migratory fish are part of Pennsylvania’s natural, cultural and economic heritage. Restoration efforts since the late 1800s have been driven by this fact. Restoration efforts are simply aimed at reversing the effects of earlier human activity and regaining a lost legacy.


The initial effort in shad restoration began in Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River shortly after the Civil War with the formation in 1866 of what is today the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. In fact, shad restoration was the driving force behind the formation of the Commission. The modern day restoration efforts on the Schuylkill River began in earnest in the 1970s. During nighttime netting, Commission biologists were surprised to find that adult shad were moving up the Schuylkill River as far as Fairmount Dam despite little innate reason for them to do so. In 1979 a fish passage was opened at the Fairmont Dam. Although it was used extensively by resident fish populations, very few shad or herring utilized the passage.

With the lack of passage at Flat Rock Dam hindering the Schuylkill program and opportunities that presented themselves on the Lehigh River, the Commission changed its focus from the Schuylkill to the Lehigh.

Buoyed by successes on the Susquehanna and Lehigh Rivers and a series of events that made shad restoration on the Schuylkill more promising, the Commonwealth re-energized its efforts in the 1990s. In June 1999 the Commonwealth released $2.2 million to construct a passage at Flat Rock Dam.


A total of 10 dams on the river once blocked shad migrations.

Four have fishways in place:

  • Fairmount Dam (mile 9) -- Fishway is being reconstructed in 2008. The work is a multi-million dollar project and includes major design upgrades that will improve:
    -1) the ability of American shad to find the entrance,
    -2) reduce the energy required for shad to ascend the fishway,
    -3) and reduce the amount of river debris that accumulates on the fishway screens, allowing better passage of fish and reducing maintenance requirements.
  • Flat Rock Dam (mile 15) -- Fishway, located near Gladwyn, Montgomery County, was completed and became operational in 2006.
  • Norristown Dam (mile 21) -- Fishway was completed by Exelon Energy in January 2008 and opened to fish passage. The dam/fishway is owned and will be operated by Montgomery County Parks Department.
  • Black Rock Dam (mile 37) -- This fishway, which is near Phoenixville, Chester County, went into service on June 3, 2009. The owner/operator is Exelon Energy.

Three dams are now or will be breached/removed:

  • Plymouth Dam (mile 18) -- West Conshohocken, Montgomery County. Necessary permits have been obtained, DEP plans to remove the dam by the end of the summer in 2009.
  • Vincent Dam (mile 42) -- Remnants of the breached dam are to be removed in the future. It is likely that fish passage is occurring at present.
  • Felix Dam (mile 79) -- Remnants of this breached dam and the smaller dam immediately upstream were removed in December 2007.

Three other dams (Kernsville, Auburn, Tamaqua) will remain in place as part of de-silting projects.

Dams on the Schuylkill River


Since 1999 the Commission has stocked nearly 4.5 million juvenile (fry) shad in the Schuylkill River. All hatchery-released fry are tagged for later study by immersing them in tetracycline antibiotics. The tetracycline bonds to calcium and is incorporated into the growing otolith or earstone. The tags are detected by extracting the otolith, grinding a thin section and exposing it to ultra-violet light under a microscope. The presence and pattern of tags helps researchers determine if stocking efforts are successful.

In 2003, for the 1st time in recent years, a large number of adult shad returned to the Schuylkill, indicating the 1999 and 2000 stockings had been successful. Large numbers continue to be seen and a shad fishery has been developed! From 2003 to 2007, a sample of 112 adult shad were collected at Fairmount Dam and analyzed - 106 of the 112 of the fish collected were marked (95%), indicating they originated from the Commission’s hatchery.

The PFBC continues to stock American shad fry annually in the vicinity of Reading. These stockings continue to be successful, based upon monitoring conducted thus far. An American shad fishery has developed on an annual basis in the tailrace of Fairmount Dam.

Anglers must learn the differences between American shad and hickory shad (view pictures and information for both from online version of PA Fishes book), as both are present. The harvest or injury of hickory shad could result in a substantial fine as the hickory shad is on PA's endangered species list.

The long-term goal is to decrease reliance on stocking by developing a self-sustaining population of shad. Spring runs averaging between 300,000 to 850,000 returning American shad will be considered a restored fishery.

In the future American shad will create a new, much anticipated fishery through this highly developed river corridor in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Commission believes that a restored fishery will support some 60,000 – 170,000 angler trips each and every year.

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