Shad in Schools

A Public-Education Tool for Restoring Our Rivers

photo of school girls examining shad fry next to White Clay Creek
Students from a local school get ready to release shad fry, which have been prepared in their classroom, into the White Clay Creek in an effort to reintroduce the species into their natural ecosystem.
Since 2010, the Water Resources Agency (WRA)—a unit of the School of Public Policy & Admnistration’s Institute for Public Administration—and the Brandywine Conservancy have been working in collaboration to implement the Shad in Schools program in the Brandywine, White Clay Creek, and Red Clay Creek watersheds in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Shad in Schools program, an education and outreach tool, is part of the larger efforts in the Brandywine and White Clay Creeks to restore shad and migratory fish passage and habitat, increase spawning areas, and benefit the resident fish in the watersheds. 

The Shad in Schools program is an applied experience that educates students, teachers, and the public about the history, problems/decline, and life cycle of American shad while teaching math and science concepts through the balance of water conditions and temperature. In the first year of the program, WRA, which is located in the White Clay Creek watershed, and four schools located in the Brandywine Creek watershed established the five initial tanks. By the third year of the program (2012), there were ten schools from the Brandywine, Red Clay, and White Clay Creeks participating in this program. 

The program has a distinct timeline that must be followed each year in order to mimic the natural conditions in the stream and prepare for the arrival of the American shad eggs.  In mid-April, the schools receive their shad-rearing tank equipment, and the students and teachers construct the shad tank. Once constructed, the tank runs for approximately 2-3 weeks prior to receiving the shad eggs. During this time, the students conduct water-quality tests on the system, including tests on ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and temperature.  

Once the water in the system is acclimated appropriately, the students are prepared to receive their shad eggs.  Eggs are collected from mature shad in the streams and then introduced to the student’s tanks. There they will grow and hatch into fry in about 4-5 days; on the fifth day they are released into the Brandywine and White Clay Creeks. Shad are anadromous fish, spawning in fresh-water streams and migrating to the ocean to grow and mature.  The fry that are released will remain in the creeks until the water temperatures begin to drop in the fall. The shad will then swim out to the Atlantic Ocean, where they will continue to grow. They will remain in the ocean for 4-6 years before returning to the river they were released in for their first spawn.

WRA’s Martha Corrozi Narvaez and the Brandywine Conservancy’s Tim Lucas serve as the leads for the Shad in Schools program.  For more information about this project, contact Martha Corrozi Narvaez (mcorrozi@udel.edu).