Holyoke Dam Fishway Seeing Record Number of American Shad

A record number of American Shad have made their way up the Connecticut River this season – the most in two decades. At the Holyoke Dam, shad making their way upstream run have been counted since 1955.

It’s migration season for many anadromous fish that make a yearly upstream pilgrimage from the Atlantic to spawning grounds in the Connecticut River. Paul Ducheney, executive director of the Hydro division at Holyoke Gas and Electric, stands on an observation deck overlooking two watery elevators that literally give a lift upstream to migratory fish. dozens of shad gleam as they circle in a metal tank of murky water, as they’re raised up thirty-five feet. At the top, they’re emptied into a flume where visitors crowd against glass panels to watch them swim by. 

Ducheney says more than 450,000 American Shad have made the trip so far this year. That’s nearly double last year’s number.

“We’ve lifted very heavy this year. This year’s been probably a twenty year high in fish – shad in particular.”

Ducheney says the warmer than average winter may have boosted the shad population this year.

“By lifting them the 35 feet up to an area above the dam, they’re less stressed, and they’re able to have more energy to go upstream.”

A team of students from Holyoke Community College watch the tank closely, and click a button each time a fish passes through. Student Britney LaFlamme says the most exciting finds are any type of fish besides shad. She says they’ve seen salmon, carp, stripers, and catfish so far this season.

“We’re waiting for a sturgeon still. Last year we had three, this year we haven’t had any, so we’re just waiting for the day.”

The shad run typically continues through mid-July. The fishway’s observation deck is open to the public through June 17th.