Giving Back to the River: The Pamunkey and Mattaponi Fish Hatcheries

Returning the Gift

The American shad is a larger herring that lives in coastal ocean waters and returns to fresh-water rivers, such as the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, to spawn in spring. Native men fish the rivers in the chilly mornings of March, collecting egg-laden females and males. They then "milk" the fish for their eggs and sperm, and cultivate the eggs in hatchery tanks.

Jamie Adkins (Pamunkey) demonstrates "milking" a female shad to extract the eggs, prior to fertilization.

The fertilized eggs are deposited in holding tanks that circulate river water, for several weeks, until the tiny fish (known as "fry") hatch and grow large enough to return safely to the river. Each year, as many as 2 million fry are released back to the water.