For the first time since 1777, White Clay Creek in Delaware saw shad return to its waters.
The University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency scored a major environmental victory with the partial removal of the Hale-Byrnes dam on White Clay Creek. The dam, constructed the year following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, prevented shad from returning to their ancestral spawning grounds.
“They live in the Atlantic Ocean for five or six years and they come back to the rivers of their birth to spawn,” said Dr. Jerry Kauffman, director of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, and leader of the dam-removal project.
This project was the first removal of its kind in the state of Delaware. It took three years to complete and cost about $200,000. The money was provided via organizations such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Fish America Foundation.
According to the WDDE 91.9 Dover radio station,
Kauffman predicted the fish would return to the creek sometime between mid-March and mid-June, and in recent days he decided to take a fresh look for them when water temperatures were rising and a shrub called the serviceberry or “shadbush” was blooming – a traditional sign that the shad are arriving in local waterways.
The ultimate goal is for the shad to help improve the ecology and ecosystem within White Clay Creek. Their return already proves that the quality of the water in the creek has improved. It is hoped that the return of the fish will help spur the return of other iconic species such as the bald eagle.
White Clay Creek has multiple dams along its 35-mile length. The next one is set to be removed sometime this summer. Kauffman’s ultimate goal is to have the remaining five dams removed within the next five years.
“The plan is to remove all seven and get the fish up into Pennsylvania,” he said.
It is remarkable that the shad returned so quickly even after a 238-year waiting period. The fact that the fish continued to remember their ancestral spawning grounds for so many generations shows just how important waterway conservation is for the preservation of various species.
White Clay Creek is a great success story in the world of wildlife conservation.
Kauffman summed it up the best: “It’s evidence that the quality of the streams and the habitat of the streams are improving. The quality of the water is now good enough that we can now start thinking about reintroducing the native fish populations.”