Originally created 04/08/00

Shad return to river



Some of Augusta's most remarkable Masters Week visitors often go unnoticed.

The golf fans come from everywhere; the American shad that swim up the Savannah River each spring come from coastal waters off Nova Scotia, Canada.

Somehow, these schooling fish make their way from the cold North Atlantic, down the East Coast and into rivers like the Savannah -- as they have for countless thousands of years.

The fish caught by anglers at New Savannah Bluff are the survivors who spent four years at sea before returning to native streams to spawn.

Soon, most of them will die. But their eggs, deposited in the river, will hatch and the cycle begins anew.

It is nature at work in a way that is difficult to understand.

Scientists are worried about the American shad. Their numbers are declining, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Many rivers are blocked by dams that prevent the fish from moving upstream, and the Savannah is no exception. The fish once migrated 300 miles inland. Now few of them make it past Augusta.

Despite the loss of habitat and other obstacles, the shad continue to visit Augusta each spring, when dogwoods bloom and the titans of golf clash on the greens and fairways of the Augusta National Golf Club.

Both are traditions to be cherished.

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APRIL FOOL'S DOVE SEASON: It was a pretty good joke, but nobody bought it.

A widely circulated flyer promoting a "special weeklong spring hunting season" for mourning doves caught the attention of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division's Law Enforcement Section.

The flyer, circulated by a group calling itself the International Commission for the Regulation of Migratory Fish, Fowl & Game, said the special dove season was to open April 1 and close last Friday.

Game wardens statewide, including those based in Thomson, were on the lookout for the clamor of any illicit shoots. But aside from a few spring turkey hunters, the fields were silent.

"We didn"t get any reports, anywhere that we know of, of any illegal dove hunting," said Melissa Cumming, a Wildlife Resources Division spokeswoman.

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RARE FISH IN CANAL? If you noticed a pair of pontoon boats dragging electrified cables along the Augusta Canal last week, don't worry.

It was just the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, making some official aquatic inquiries.

The scientists used electricity to briefly stun fish that swam into their path. The fish were netted, examined and released.

The idea, according to fisheries biologist Ed Bettross, was to see whether the canal contains the Robust Redhorse Sucker, a species once thought to be extinct.

Named for its stout shape and crimson fins, the fish weigh up to 17 pounds and were first described in 1870 by naturalist Edward Drinker Cope. For the next 122 years, they were officially missing -- and thought extinct.

In 1991, the Robust Redhorse was rediscovered in the Oconee River near Dublin, and a second population was found 2' years ago in the Savannah River.

Bettross and his crew found no Robust Redhorse in the canal, but the fish is gaining ground in the river, due largely to efforts by agencies like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Georgia Power Company, which has aided restoration programs.

Reach

Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222,

Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.