Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 329–345 | Cite as

Overwintering habitats of migratory juvenile American shad in Chesapeake Bay

  • Joel C. Hoffman
  • Karin E. Limburg
  • Deborah A. Bronk
  • John E. Olney
Full Paper


We describe overwintering habitats of age-0 American shad in the lower Chesapeake Bay estuary through analyses of multiple, complementary data sets, including bottom-trawls of the Virginia portion of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, stable isotope analysis of American shad and common prey items, and stomach content analysis. This is the first detailed description of overwintering habitats used by young American shad during their first migration to the Atlantic Ocean. American shad generally migrated from their freshwater rearing habitat during November and December and migrated to the ocean during February through March. American shad were captured in all of Virginia’s tributaries and along Chesapeake Bay’s western coast. These fish were caught in relatively cool waters (5–9°C) over a wide range of salinities (0.1–27.5). Strong selection for certain temperatures or salinities was not apparent. Stomach content and stable isotope analyses demonstrated that juveniles were feeding in the estuary, growing on a diet of estuarine calanoid copepods, mysid shrimps, and larval fishes. The stable isotope data were used to describe temperature- and size-cued migration from fresh water. Temperature was an important cue affecting both the timing and the rate of migration. Further, American shad exhibited at least three different size-related migration behaviors: most juveniles emigrated from the freshwater rearing habitat at 2–5 g (ca. 55–75 mm fork length); other juveniles emigrated at a size of 2 g or less and rapidly moved into the lower estuary; and finally, a few juveniles remained in the upper estuary and did not emigrate until they were 5 g or larger. A few American shad were captured with anomalous stable isotope signatures, which may be explained by migration into the Chesapeake Bay estuary from an adjacent system.


Alosa Stable isotope Movement Diet 



We thank H. Brooks, W. Lowery, and the staff of the VIMS Juvenile Finfish and Blue Crab Trawl Survey for field collections, K. Delano for preparing samples, and D. Harris for stable isotope analysis. J.C.H. was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The project was sponsored in part by NOAA Office of Sea Grant, U.S. Department of Commerce, under Grant NA03OAR4170084 to the Virginia Graduate Marine Science Consortium and Virginia Sea Grant College Program, and by the Wallop-Breaux Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Marine Recreational Fishing Advisory Board of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Grant numbers F-116-R-6 and F-116-R-7). This is contribution 2802 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel C. Hoffman
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Karin E. Limburg
    • 2
  • Deborah A. Bronk
    • 1
  • John E. Olney
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceGloucester PointUSA
  2. 2.SUNY College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Ecological Effects Research LaboratoryMid-Continent Ecology DivisionDuluthUSA

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