Originally created 03/16/04

Lock and Dam worsens fishing

I read recently in the Fishing section that a few people are starting to catch American shad from the Savannah River below the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.

Is the Augusta community aware of how fascinating the American shad is?

Augusta's American shad are born in the Savannah River, and they migrate in the ocean more than 3,000 miles, maturing in the Gulf of Maine before returning to the Savannah to spawn and die.

These are a powerful and beautiful game fish, a miniature version of the tarpon that is found in the Florida Keys. The female or "roe" American shad is twice the size of the male "buck" shad, often weighing 5 or 6 pounds. Anyone who has never seen an American shad would be impressed: the dark greenish-blue back, the flashing silver sides, and the streamlined body that is laterally compressed.

One look at the forked tail and you know that these fish are from the ocean; they don't sit around the bottom like a bullhead catfish. Hook into an American shad and be ready for a fight. It takes off across the river, leaps, flies through the air and struts around on its tail. It makes another run. It leaps again.

This is the time of year when Augustans read brief reports of these fish in the Fishing section every Friday. The reports vary from week to week, but there is always one detail that remains the same: Shad were caught below the Lock & Dam. Well, of course they were - they can't get past it!

I don't know how many people around here know this, but as it stands today the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is in disrepair. The lock doesn't work, and there is no fish ladder. That means these fish - and their striped bass cousins - can't get to the cooler, rockier shoals to spawn and rebuild their populations. That is a crime against nature.

The Savannah River belongs not to us, but to the fish that live in it. I don't know why the health of the American shad has not been a priority for the local community. I think it's time we examined how much of an asset it would be for this community if we would actually manage this fishery in a positive way, good for both the fish and the community.

It's time to either fix or rip out the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam and give the fish a fighting chance.

Britt Bickley, Augusta

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