If things were this bad in the late 1770s, George Washington's starving Continental Army might never have made it out of Valley Forge.
The shad, according to one account, came charging up the Schuylkill River to spawn and ran headlong into soldiers who leapt into the water, herded them into nets and wolfed them down.
Now the shad are depleted to the point of collapse. The population is so low that the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council last week imposed the first-ever cap on the domestic commercial catch of shad and river herring — which Washington's army also ate during the war against the British.
The move is the latest action by a fishery-management group to try to shore up species that have been nearly exhausted by overfishing and poor water quality. The harvest of menhaden, considered the most important fish in the sea because it provides food for many animals and helps filter pollution, was recently cut by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission because of its low stocks.
On shad and herring, the federal council took action after the states' commission "evaluated the health of these fish in rivers and oceans . . . and both species were determined to be at near-historic low levels," said Kate Taylor, senior fishery management planning coordinator for the commission.
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