Each spring, just as dogwoods erupt into peak bloom, American shad begin their migration up the Savannah River from the coast.
Usually, the ancient locks at New Savannah Bluff are opened every few days, allowing thousands of the shimmering fish to swim upriver past Augusta to spawn in the rocky shoals.
This year, though, the locks are frozen shut. In February, the worn valves that enable the structure to open and close failed -- and repairs remain months away.
The inability of shad to move past New Savannah Bluff dam will make it great for shad fishermen -- but not so great for the shad. That's why a consortium of conservation groups came up with a solution: give them a lift.
"We're hoping to set up the great shad roundup of 2008," said Christine Griffiths of The Nature Conservancy, which is working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and other agencies on the project.
If all goes as planned, crews with boats will converge at the dam April 29 and use electrofishing gear to briefly stun and capture as many shad as possible.
"We may end up using a tanker truck to transport the shad," said South Carolina fisheries biologist Bill Post. "It's been done before in the Northeast in areas where there is no fish passage, so we hope it will work here."
Although shad are sensitive to handling, the short move -- just a quarter mile -- should keep mortality to a minimum, Post said.
East Coast shad populations have declined 90 percent since 1900, because damming of rivers has eliminated spawning habitat.
Studies in 2002 concluded approximately 150,000 to 500,000 fish swim upriver to New Savannah Bluff each spring.
The shad hatch in rivers up and down the East Coast and move out to sea, where it takes four years to grow to maturity.
The huge, migratory schools inhabit cold North Atlantic waters off Nova Scotia, Canada. After years at sea, the survivors return to the very rivers where they hatched -- including the Savannah.
Biologists believe declining populations of important food fish (tuna, codfish, redfish and members of the mackerel family) are tied to the decline in forage fish such as American shad. Whales and dolphins also depend on shad.
BASS PRO: Years of rumors yielded a formal announcement last week that Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops is indeed coming to Augusta.
The plan, unveiled last week during a Richmond County Development Authority meeting, includes a 100,000-square-foot (or larger) superstore that will open in late 2009 at the Village at Riverwatch site between Interstate 20 and the Augusta Canal.
What folks may not have known is that a veritable who's who of Augustans has worked on the project for many months.
As far back as December, a delegation that included Columbia County developer Frank Mullins, Canal Authority director Dayton Sherrouse and Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver quietly boarded a plane for Springfield, Mo., where they toured the retailer's headquarters.
The result was a push by local officials to offer Bass Pro up to $25 million in tax- exempt financing as an inducement to get the organization and its "sports venue" business model into Augusta.
"They got interested in this site and liked it for a variety of reasons," Sherrouse said. "One of those reasons was that it is along the Augusta Canal."
The 132-acre site's developer, Texas-based MGHerring Group, had completed much of the clearing, site preparation and infrastructure already.
"They're as much a tourist attraction as they are a retail establishment," Sherrouse said. "Really we're excited about them being adjacent to the National Heritage Area, and of course the river as well. It seems like a great partner for us for that site."
Bass Pro Shop stores typically involve a unique theme that complements the region in which the store is located, and the design and exhibit areas are designed around that theme, said Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whitely.
Soon, a team will be sent to Augusta to begin evaluating ideas for the store. Got any suggestions?
ASA VISITORS: By the end of the week, Augusta's population will swell by more than 1,000 as one of the nation's largest archery organizations converge at Fort Gordon for the ASA McKenzie Pro-Am Archery Tournament.
The Archery Shooters Association 3-D event will include 12 courses with most action concentrated at the Tactical Advantage Sportsman's Complex (Range 14), said Fred Perry, the fort's outdoor recreation manager.
Spectators are welcome during the tournament from 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Directional signs to the complex will be posted at all entrance gates.
In 3-D archery, competitors shoot at foam-rubber animals on 20-target ranges. The target-animals have rings with numbers. The smallest ring, requiring the most accurate shot, will provide the best score. At the end of the match, the competitor with the highest score wins.