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Susquehanna River American Shad
Shad passage on the Susquahanna River for 2014 began on April 4 at Conowingo Dam. The river flows have been very high and very cold. This negatively impacts both operations of the fishway as it cannot be operated under very high flows and is less effective during high flows. In addition water temperatures that have stayed below 50F for the early part of April are not conducive to good shad movement.

Normally, the next fish lift immediately upstream form Conowingo at Holtwood would not begin operation until a minimum threshold of shad have passed at Conowingo Dam. As no American shad have yet to pass Conowingo Dam the traditional threshold has not been reached. However, the Holtwood Dam Redevelopment Project is nearly complete and the new fishway have been put in place. The staff at Holtwood are operating the fishway to become familiar with the new water flows system, how the altered water control and flow management fishlift.

Running totals linked to weekly reports of fish passage operations at the four hydroelectric dams on the lower Susquehanna will be provided in the table below.

2014 Passages
  Fish Passage Facilities (downstream >>> upstream)
Date / Event Conowingo Holtwood Safe Harbor York Haven
1st shad - - - -
1st day of operation April 4 April 9 - -
Susquehanna River fish lifts/ladders
Susquehanna River Fish-Way Operations
There are fish passage facilities (fish-ways) at each of the four Hydroelectric Dams on the lower Susquehanna River. Conowingo, Holtwood and Safe Harbor Dams, the first three moving upriver, have fish lifts or elevators. York Haven Dam, the fourth dam, has a vertical slot fish ladder. Fish lifts work by using water currents to attract the migrating fish into a channel. Crowder gates close to crowd the fish over the hopper bucket, and the bucket is lifted vertically to the level of the reservoir upstream. The water and fish in the bucket are then dumped into an exit trough which leads the fish to the reservoir.

All of the fish-ways were constructed with viewing windows where biologists count the migrating fish. Click here to see a movie clip of gizzard and American shad moving past the viewing window at Conowingo Dam, this is recorded, not live.

Further upstream, the Fabri-Dam at Sunbury is scheduled to have a fish ladder built when state funds become available. Hepburn Street Dam in Williamsport has a ladder in place, which will be upgraded in the near future.

Fish passage operations begin at Conowingo on April 1, or when water temperature reaches 50F. Fish passage operations upstream are triggered by counts of migrating fish at the next dam downstream. Reports of fish-way activity, numbers and species of fish passed are provided by the dam operators to the Fish and Boat Commission on a weekly basis and are updated regularly and reported on this website (see table below). Very high flow events can disrupt normal fish passage schedules and operations, however, by following the weekly updates, observers can get a feel for the beginning, peak and end of the run. Fish-way operations cease around mid-June to coincide with the apparent ending of the run. Declining numbers of fish counted and temperatures increasing to ranges above that of spawning shad trigger the closing of the fish-ways. Dam operators, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission work together to determine fish-way schedules.

Summary of Shad Passages -- Final Counts
YEAR Conowingo Holtwood Safe Harbor York Haven
2013 12,733 2,503 1,927 202
2012 22,143 4,238 3,089 224
2011 20,571 21 8 0
2010 37,757 16,472 12,706 907
2009 29,272 10,896 7,994 402
2008 19,914 2,795 1,252 21
2007 25,464 10,338 7,215 192
2006 56,899 35,968 24,929 1,913
2005 68,853 34,189 24,425 1,772
2004 109,360 3,482 2,109 219
2003 125,135 25,254 16,646 2,536
2002 108,001 17,522 11,705 1,555
2001 193,574 109,976 89,816 16,200
2000 153,546 29,421 21,079 4,675
1999 69,712 34,702 34,150 --
1998 39,904 8,235 6,054 --
1997 90,971 28,063 20,828 --
Conowingo was built in 1991 but didn't pass fish until 1997.
Holtwood and Safe Harbor came online in 1997, York Haven in 2000.
Related topics
Prior year passage reports
2002 2003 2004 2005
2006 2007 2008 2009
2010 2011 2012 2013
Migratory Fish Management and Restoration Plan for the Susquehanna River Basin – SRAFRC
Biologist reports
Shad Index
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