Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shad On the Run

Peter Applebome's column in today's Times, "Why a Fish Didn't Show At a Festival In Its Honor," is a warning about a disturbing trend in the Hudson: the decline of ten out of thirteen species of fish in the river since the 1980s--including the shad.

Over the weekend, the environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper held its 19th Annual Shad Fest and Hudson River Celebration without serving any shad. Baked shad, cooked on a plank next to glowing coals, has long been a sign of spring in the Hudson Valley. "With the population of fish dwindling to historically low levels," Applebome reports, "the decision was made to have the festival without serving any shad for the first time."

A study commissioned by Riverkeeper levels blame at power plants on the river, but also points to overfishing, the netting of fish out at sea before they reach the river, destruction of fish habitats, invasive species, and two changes in the river's water: a decline in oxygen levels and an increase temperature. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation blames overfishing.

I'm not competent to judge which of these factors or others is to blame for the decline of so many fish in the Hudson River. But I do believe that the health of the Hudson is worth fighting for. It would be a tragedy if the reward for the cleanup of the river is a Hudson with fewer fish.

Contact Riverkeeper to learn more about its many activities, including Hudson Fisheries Defense .


Anonymous said...

When Riverkeeper announced its report, I began waiting for the secondary articles, ones not directly traceable to Riverkeeper, to begin to run with the distortions presented in the report, all done for the sake of Riverkeeper. And here we are.

In any river, lake or estuary, one might catalog at this time, declines in certain species. In the Hudson, the striped bass is on the ascendency, and bass eat shad, plain and simple. Why do some decline and others take over?

An article from "The Daily Green" notes a recent study found that fully 25% of fish species worldwide, are invasive non-original species, and that all native species are now in decline. Read the article yourself at
The decline is worldwide.

A similar article found at
tells us how a National Audubon Society study found that fully 80% of common bird species in the USA have declined in numbers up to 54% since 1967. The report blames human development as the cause of this plummet in bird numbers. This decline is continent-wide.

These are global realities, now that human civilization has spread, supplanting archaic biosystems, with new diversified biosystems, adapted to the presence of humanity.To attempt to jawbone this planetary fact, into a call for donations to Riverkeeper, is not only bad science, but skewed bio-ethics, diverting or preventing needed action, by injecting Riverkeeper's own needs into a much larger issue, one not solvable by Riverkeeper's narrow abilities.

In essence, it would be possible anywhere, on any river or lake, to fund a "designer science" study, finding some species were declining. To stop there, would be meretricious misuse of the methods of science, for narrow aims. In fact, older species are giving way to new species, diversifying native fauna, to a more global mix. If we were to leave out the broader picture, it could only be that we were hoping to advance a narrow local agenda, at the expense of truth.

Seeing as shad, a form of herring, and Riverkeeper's central species of concern , is anadromous, spending most of its life at sea, any blame for reduction in numbers has to be layed at the feet of the countries sending huge factory ship fleets out to decimate fish populations in mid ocean. Once satisfied with larger herring species, these fleets had put themselves in a bind by fishing those species to depletion. Now, just to continue their own profitability, they've turned to the shad (which they once ignored). Thus the shad are pursued, and depleted, by a vastly efficient high tech enemy, one who will fish them to extinction at some point.

Riverkeeper, not truly interested in the survival of shad, downplays this fact.

Meanwhile, in the Hudson estuary, everything has changed.

Invasive species, led by the Russian zebra mussel, have conquered the river, and usurped the places in the food chain formerly inhabited by declining species. Zebra mussels alone, are said by the Lamont Dohery laboratory, to filter the entire mass of water in the estuary once every 1.4 days.

This is a truly massive use of the Hudson's waters, dwarfing by several thousand times, the amount of water used by power plants for cooling. Moreover, it is a use of the water with absolutely no benefit for mankind, for other species, or for anything at all, except the increase of the monstrous zebra mussel plague, which so far has been unstoppable worldwide.

Were Riverkeeper truly an estuarine protector, it would put its weight behind the search for solutions for the zebra mussel.
However, its search for deep pocketed opponents, marks it clearly as a pure public relations political organization, overlawyered, thinking only of its own prosperity, and setting up its own peculiar straw men, so as to appear to be knocking them down, while asking the public for charity donations, that they might continue this "campaign".

Actually, what Riverkeeper does best, is collect money, having recently filled its own corporate grants chair, to seek larger donations from larger donors. This is bad news for the shad, who will not get any help from this quarter, and will only be used as bait, to catch these larger, corporate fish.

read the text of the articles I Cited, below:
all our rivers are invaded

Biological Pollution Decimating Lakes and Rivers
Study Ties Invasive Fish to Urban Commerce 2/4/2008

Up to one in four fish species inhabiting lakes and rivers near human settlements is foreign, according to the first global analysis of invasive species in freshwater ecosystems.
Invasive species are often called "biological pollution" because they have far-reaching effects on native wildlife. When a foreign species is introduced into a new ecosystem, it often thrives in the absence of predators, out-competes native species for a finite food source or otherwise disrupts the web of life that had evolved in that location.
Zebra mussels, native to the Caspian Sea area of Europe and Asia, for example, have invaded many freshwater ecosystems in the United States. In the Hudson River, zebra mussels have led to the extinction of native clams and so altered the ecosystem by filtering out massive amounts of plankton that young fish may not be surviving because they can't eat enough.
The new study, led by Fabien Leprieur, Olivier Beauchard and published in the Public Library of Science, found that in 1,000 river basins studied, population density, degree of urbanized land, and that area's gross domestic product were most clearly related to the number of invasive fish.
The authors of the study warned that rivers that have remained relatively unharmed are unlikely to remain so as more developing nations modernize, and world population continues to grow.
Find this article at:

Common Birds in Drastic Decline
A new study by the National Audubon Society has found that many of America's most well-known and well-loved birds are disappearing. Some species have declined as much as 80 percent. Loss of habitat is the biggest reason for the trend, as suburban sprawl, farming, mining, energy exploration and logging have radically altered the American landscape over the past 40 years. Grasslands, healthy, mature forests and wetlands are all in decline, in part due to human development and industry and in part due to the introduction of foreign, invasive plant species.
While declines in grassland species of the American Midwest have been documented before, certain boreal forest species now show new declines due, in part, to logging. Global warming, too, poses a serious threat, as the changing climate alters habitat, food and disease dynamics. For the first time, declines in birds on the tundra could indicate that global warming is already having an effect, according to the study's lead author, Greg Butcher.
“These are not rare or exotic birds we're talking about...these are the birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and seashores and yet they are disappearing day by day,” Audubon chairwoman and former EPA Administrator Carol Browner said. “Their decline tells us we have serious work to do, from protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats from global warming.”
Species on Audubon's list of Common Birds in Decline have seen their populations plummet at least 54 percent since 1967. For a list of the hardest-hit birds, click here. The results have not been peer-reviewed, but the scientists plan to submit the study to a scientific journal for review. Some trends leading to the declines may become worse in the near future. Industrial-scale agriculture has greatly reduced grassland habitat, and the recent boom in ethanol — fueled by government subsidies — has led to a big increase in corn planting.
Audubon's Common Birds in Decline list stems from the first-ever analysis combining annual sighting data from Audubon's century-old Christmas Bird Count program with results of the annual Breeding Bird Survey conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. These surveys are executed by volunteers around the country and world, who submit records of their observations. "This is a powerful example of how tens of thousands of volunteer birders, pooling their observations, can make an enormous difference for the creatures they care the most about," natural history writer Scott Weidensaul said in a prepared statement. "Thanks to their efforts, we have the information. Now all of us — from birders to policy makers — need to take action to keep these species from declining even further." Weidensaul said the decline of game birds — like scaup, pintail and grouse — shows that even species that are the subject of extensive planning and conservation efforts are suffering. That shows that "the time to save species is when they are still common." "Really," he said, "no species is safe from the sweeping landscape changes we're seeing."

As far as the relative impact of power plants, compared to the impact of these global forces, power plants have almost no impact at all. Read the numbers below:

According to the State University at Stony Brook, at URL

The majority of water flow in the Hudson estuary is tidal, amounting to some 425,000 cubic feet per second at the battery. Fresh flow is much less, reaching a maximum of 30,000 cubic feet per second in April. The estuary flushes itself every 126 days. That is to say, after 126 days, all the water is new.

At its maximum, 425000 plus 30000 gives 455000 cubic feet per second total water flow, fresh plus tidal. 126 days contain 10,886,400 seconds. Therefore a rough calculation of the total mass of water in the estuary equals: (455000 cubic feet/second) X ( 10,886,400 seconds) = 49,533,122,000,000 cubic feet of water.

Indian Point's circulating Water Pumps are 140,000 GPM pumps. There are 12 pumps ( all 12 are seldom used at once). 140,000 GPM is 2333 gallons per second. (2333) X (12 pumps) = 28,000 gallons per second, or 3740 cubic feet per second intake water for both units running at ultra maximum capacity. If all 12 pumps are run for the entire 126 days needed to replace the estuary water, (one flush) they will process 40,715,136,000 cubic feet of that water.

(40,715,136,000) divided by ( 49,533,122,000,000) = 0.008
At its maximum capacity, Indian Point touches less than one percent of the Hudson estuary's water.

That means that 99% of the estuary's water mass never encounters Indian Point. To a fish, or an egg floating in the estuary that means more than 99% live their entire lives as if Indian Point did not exist.

To give up the 2000 megawatts powering New York's stock exchange, Metro North, Yankee Stadium, the Meadowlands, Madison Square Garden, every single shopping mall, and all the local airports to save 1% of the fish larvae may seem worthwhile to dedicated career ecologists, who want to see every egg miss Indian Point, but it may not be worthwhile to anyone else, not even to the fish.

Fish lay eggs in a vast overkill, to compensate for predation and bad luck. Fish eggs are in no way comparable to human babies. Fish eggs are more accurately compared to human spermatozoa, the vast majority of which are expected to die, and which do die off, in a very normal and natural reduction that leads to a stable and healthy population.

Moreover, Indian Point has a Fish Return System in place, which guides anything swimming in that 1% of the estuary's water at the intake, along an escape weir that returns fish to the river downstream of IPEC, so that in effect far, far less than 1% of the estuary's swimming inhabitants ever encounter Indian Point's machinery, just the fish weir.

Standing at Indian Point's dock, one can see the ripples in the surface where a great gathering of creatures seek out the warm water flow from IPEC's discharge. Gulls, herons, and other birds hover there, and underwater species such as the blue crab are allowed to live in this part of the Hudson, which otherwise would be too cold for them to survive. (Without IPEC, they would not be found north of the Chesapeake). So IPEC is supporting a flourishing micro-ecosphere at its discharge, one never mentioned by ecological opposers.

Add to this, the recent invasion of the Hudson by non-native species via the great lakes shipping lanes, and it becomes unclear just what ecologists are striving to "protect". Are we to give up our electricity, so that a melange of invasive "bum fish", swamp grass and Russian zebra mussels can be more at home in their newly stolen North American habitat? Are some ecologists simply pandering for grant money? Is their focus unnaturally narrow and negative?

The native Shad and Bass species are stable but inedible, because of mercury and PCB contamination endemic to the Hudson, and having nothing to do with Indian Point. Many of these fish are lineal descendants of the billions of fish hatched at Indian Point's own fish hatchery over 25 years. So does IPEC threaten the Hudson biosphere, as some claim, or has it instead become an integrated, supportive part of the ecological mix now found in the estuary? Arguments can be made both ways.

The Western coast of the United States is overrun with shad, all of which are descendants of a single importation in 1871.

On June 19, 1871 Seth Green embarked on a cross country railroad trip bearing 12,000 eastern shad hatchlings that had been born the night before.The hatchlings were kept in four 8-gallon milk cans, and 10,000 of them survived the seven day rail trip, to be dumped into the Sacramento river at 10 PM June 26 1871.

By the 1980's shad runs numbering 3 million were reported on the West coast, where shad now flourish from Mexico to Alaska, thanks to Mr Green's action. One can only imagine the possibilities open to Alex Matthiessen and Riverkeeper, who have much more sophisticated travel and preservation technologies at their disposal, and millions of dollars in donated funds available , to make such a trip in reverse. But They do not.

One can only ask why. Could it be that an unrescued, decimated Hudson shad population is of benefit to Riverkeeper, as an advertising banner, eliciting emotional responses geared to misleading people into making contributions?

What would it cost to develop, let's say, 500,000 hatchlings? With each roe shad (fertile female) harboring up to 300,000 eggs in her roe sacs, the cull from a mere 6 or 8 females could easily provide the 500,000 eggs. The milt (sperm) from even a single buck shad could fertilize all of them, giving Mr. Matthiessen 50 times the number of hatchlings Mr. Green carried in 1871.

A quick charter flight east, and the 500,000 new shad could be released the next morning at New York harbor. Two or three such flights would restore almost the entire eastern shad run. But Matthiessen is not going to do it. Matthiessen wants shad on the brink, so he might misdirect people to giving him money to carry out quixotic, off target PR campaigns he cannot ever win.

An article on National Public Radio is a garish, bittersweet reminder, of how we need to be educated about shad. At
Bonny Wolf tells us just how to prepare shad roe, being careful not to break the delicate egg sacs, (each containing 100,000 roe eggs).Ms. Wolf goes on to advise dipping the sacs in batter, and frying them in lemon butter, and tells us how much she loves the dish. A picture of a prepared plate in this article shows us 6 shad roe sacs on a plate........Delicious as it might be, this single gourmet meal destroys the same amount of shadfish, as Mr. Matthiessen's nonexistent rescue flight could transplant back to the Hudson. Let two privileged people order up such a meal, and their delectation will have destroyed more shad than ever ran in the largest Hudson shad run, all before ordering desert.
Therefore, do not be misled.
Riverkeeper's "designer Science" report, and Bonny Wolf's recipe both emanate from the same callous, shallow, elitist presumptions, and self-congratulating tunnel vision. If you want to rescue shad, its easy. Do as Seth Green did 137 years ago. Do not mislead the rest of us, just to advance your own deceptive career ambitions.

Anonymous said...

Comment on the previous anonymous post: Quote:
At [the Hudson River's] maximum, 425000 plus 30000 gives 455000 cubic feet per second total water flow, fresh plus tidal. 126 days contain 10,886,400 seconds. Therefore a rough calculation of the total mass of water in the estuary equals: (455000 cubic feet/second) X ( 10,886,400 seconds) = 49,533,122,000,000 cubic feet of water.

The laghable and deeply flawed logic of this calculation assumes that the river runs at maximum flow in the same direction at all times. Which of course it does not, since the tide comes in, slows, stops, goes out, slows, stops, and returns.

A reality check. A cubic mile is about 27.9 million cubic feet (that's 5,280 ft x 5,280 ft). Call it 28 million cubic feet. The proposed aproximatly 50 trillion cubic feet of water amounts to 1.8 million cubic miles of water.

The land area of New York State according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, is about 47,213 square miles, so that 1.8 million cubic miles of water would put all of the land of New York state under 38 miles of water.

Back to reality:
As a consequence of tidal flows, the same water is warmed and used again and again by power plants discharging warmed water into the river.

The approximately 145 days to turn over the water is based on the proportion of fresh water.

The cited source at Stony Brook estimates the turnover based on the annual flow of fresh water entering the estuary compared to the volume of the estuary, so the previous commenter's calculation is completely needless, and aimed at pushing an unsupportable view.
See the source at:

Timmy said...

Good Job! :)