American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)

The American shad is an anadromous member of the Clupeidae family of herring and shad and is highly regarded as a gamefish in coastal rivers.


The laterally compressed, fairly deep body of the American shad is silvery white, with some green to dark blue along the back, frequently with a metallic shine. The coloring darkens slightly when the fish enters freshwater to spawn. There is a large black spot directly behind the top of the gill cover, followed by several spots that become smaller and less distinct toward the tail; sometimes there are up to three rows of these dark spots, one under the other.

The American shad has large, easily shed scales, as well as modified scales called scutes, which form a distinct ridge or cutting edge along the belly. The tail is deeply forked, and the fish has weak teeth or no teeth at all.


The normal size of American shad is 2 to 5 pounds. They reach a maximum of 30 inches. The all-tackle world record is an 11-pound, 4-ounce Massachusetts fish. Although American shad can live to age 13, few live past age 7. Females grow more quickly and are generally largest.

Spawning behavior

Most fish spawn for the first time when they weigh 3 to 5 pounds. Males reach sexual maturity at age 3 to 4, females at age 4 to 5. Peak spawning migrations occur when the water temperature is in the 50s. These migrations usually take place in April in southern rivers and through July in northern regions. Post-spawning adults attempt to return to the sea after spawning; many die immediately after spawning, whereas others have been known to live long enough to spawn as many as seven times.

Food and feeding habits

In the ocean, American shad primarily feed on plankton. They cease feeding during upstream spawning migration.

Other Names

poor man’s salmon, common shad, Atlantic shad, Connecticut River shad, North River shad, Potomac shad, Susquehanna shad, white shad, Delaware shad, alose; French: alose savoureuse.


The endemic range of this species is east of the Appalachians along the Atlantic coast of North America from Sand Hill River, Labrador, to the St. Johns River, Florida. American shad were introduced into the Sacramento River in California and now occur up and down the Pacific coast from Bahia de Todos Santos in upper Baja California, Mexico, to Cook Inlet, Alaska.


American shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, ascending coastal rivers to spawn. They are found in freshwater only during their spawning runs and engage in extensive and complex migrations throughout their range.