Skip Navigation

American Shad in Delaware

A Future for the American Shad in Delaware - Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)

Delaware State Conservationist and employee taking sample of water from Brandywine River Project

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is taking steps to help bring back the American shad to the Brandywine watershed in Delaware. In combination with several state and federal agencies and the Brandywine Conservancy, a strong cooperative partnership has been forged to remove dams and provide fish passage along the Brandywine River, restoring habitat and nurturing the sustainability of a historically significant aquatic species - American shad. Working as a project coordinator, the Conservancy will facilitate and administer the subsequent steps in this exciting effort to reintroduce native species after a 300 year absence.

One of the largest tributaries of the Delaware Estuary, the Brandywine watershed spans 325 square miles in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Because of the Brandywine's dramatic drop in elevation, numerous mills flourished along its banks during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The mills required dams, which inadvertently reduced passage for spawning fish.

In the late 1600s, before the first dams were constructed, the Brandywine supported tens of thousands of American shad. Like salmon, shad hatch in freshwater streams and rivers. They migrate to the ocean where they live for four to six years before returning to their home streams to spawn. Shad were an important food source for Native Americans as well as early European settlers. The spring shad run up the Schuylkill River is credited with helping to save General Washington's hungry troops at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

By improving fish-passage, five migratory fish species-including American shad-could return to spawn in the Brandywine. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), administered by the NRCS, will provide funding to help remove two of the dams on the river that are owned by the state. By removing the dams, migratory fish will have a greater range to migrate up-stream.

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service is proud to help the Brandywine Conservancy restore wildlife habitat along the Brandywine River. Through WHIP, a program authorized through the Farm Bill, we are able to help the conservancy finance and jumpstart the dam removal project. Along with assisting in the removal of the two dams along the Brandywine, WHIP funds are also being used to create a rock-ramp for the city of Wilmington,” said Sally Kepfer, NRCS State Resource Conservationist.

The Brandywine Conservancy has long recognized that the restoration of migratory fish would bring enormous environmental and recreational benefits to the Brandywine. Populations of birds and mammals (e.g., heron, mink, fox) would likely increase due to the augmented food supply. Restoring these important species to the river would increase the biological vitality of the watershed and contribute to recreational fishing.

Click Thumbnail Map on right to see a full page map of the Brandywine Shad Restoration sites.

Thumbnail map of the Brandywine Shad Restoration sites

The owners of the dams range from private individuals to the City of Wilmington and State of Delaware. The Conservancy also undertook extensive research on available options for enhancing fish passage, successful fish restoration efforts in other rivers, and related environmental and permitting issues. Building on relationships with the dam owners and on completed research, the Conservancy produced a feasibility study in the spring of 2005. The study describes engineering options such as fish ladders, rock ramps and partial or full removal of dams to provide fish passage. In addition, the study outlines costs, required permits, and possible funding sources to implement the restoration effort. To promote public interest, the Conservancy also created an informative slide show on American shad.

Currently, the Conservancy is collaborating with the Hagley Museum, DuPont, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the City of Wilmington to implement fish passage on the dams they own. Work is underway with the remaining Delaware dam owners to develop site-specific concept and design plans to provide fish passage. DNREC has already received and the City of Wilmington is in the process of applying for funding from NRCS to implement fish passage. Finally, NFWF has recently funded a feasibility study on dams in Pennsylvania to determine how best to restore migratory fish to the Pennsylvania portion of the Brandywine.

For more information about the Brandywine Habitat Restoration Project, shad in the Brandywine, this history and cultural significance of shad in Delaware and the Brandywine Conservancy, please visit the following link -
Information within the above text was provided by the Brandywine Conservancy – release date April24, 2007
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program - WHIP is a voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private land. Through WHIP USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service provides both technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat. WHIP agreements between NRCS and the participant generally last from 5 to 10 years from the date the agreement is signed.

WHIP has proven to be a highly effective and widely accepted program across the country. By targeting wildlife habitat projects on all lands and aquatic areas, WHIP provides assistance to conservation minded landowners.

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 reauthorized WHIP as a voluntary approach to improving wildlife habitat in our Nation. Program administration of WHIP is provided under the Natural Resources Conservation Service.