An aerial photo of the James River next to a forest and wetland. On the treeline is a doc leading to a building.
The Virginia Shad and River Herring Research Initiative is a collaboration between the VCU Rice Rivers Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Photo contributed by VCU Rice Rivers Center.)

VCU, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partner to restore migratory fish in Virginia rivers

The partnership will support the conservation of American shad and other species.

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The VCU Rice Rivers Center will receive a $300,000 federal award in support of a new partnership to advance conservation of the iconic and culturally significant migratory American shad and river herring fish species in Virginia rivers.

The Virginia Shad and River Herring Research Initiative is a collaboration between the Rice Rivers Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The new partnership between [the Fish and Wildlife Service] and VCU is the most significant step in a decade toward restoration of the iconic American shad and other migratory shads and herrings to Virginia waters,” said Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of the Rice Rivers Center. “It is difficult to overstate the environmental, cultural and economic importance of these species historically. The Rice Rivers Center is excited to be a part of ‘turning the tide’ for these native fishes after over a century of declines from overfishing, pollution and habitat loss.”

Garman added that VCU is grateful for the support of the initiative by Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Rep. Rob Wittman.

Migratory American shad, hickory shad, alewife and blueback herring once supported vital commercial and subsistence fisheries in Virginia. Beginning in the 20th century, however, a combination of overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, dams and the introduction of non-native predators diminished these once-significant fisheries.

Six fish swimming in brown water.
Migratory American shad in the James River. (Photo by Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources).

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Rice Rivers Center will engage with a broad consortium of state agencies, tribal governments, academia and nongovernmental organizations to further explore the declines in these native fishes. Biologists also will propose conservation measures to reverse population trends and help recover these valuable and iconic native species to Virginia’s coastal rivers.

"Impact-focused collaborations like this are driving VCU's growing reputation for research," said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “VCU’s ranking as one of the nation’s top 50 public research universities was earned by focusing on real-world challenges like the survival of these historically- and environmentally-significant migratory fish species. We are honored to work with so many partners on this priority project of sustainability.”

The Rice Rivers Center, part of VCU Life Sciences, is located in Charles City along the James River. It supports applied research, scholarship and student training across diverse disciplines, including water resources, climate science, wildlife conservation, wetlands restoration and environmental technology.