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Native of the Week: Gizzard Shad


Species: Gizzard shad

Scientific name: Dorosoma cepedianum

Nicknames: hickory shad, herring, skipjack

Claim to fame: Although the gizzard shad’s tasteless flesh has no “skillet appeal” for anglers and the fish are seldom caught, this fish plays an important role in Missouri fishing. Young gizzard shad are one of the primary food sources for the state’s more popular sportfish species such as white bass, crappie and largemouth bass. Although their value is lessened when they become adults and begin to compete with other species for food and space, the link gizzard shad provide in the food chain of most reservoirs and larger streams is a vital one.

Species status: In Missouri, gizzard shad are one of the most common and widely distributed of the state’s fish species. One reason for this is the prolific reproduction capabilities of the species. (A single female may produce more than a quarter-million eggs in a single year.) Another reason for the species’ abundance is that once gizzard shad reach adult size, they have few predators.

First discovered: The first scientific description of the gizzard shad was written by the French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur in 1818.

Family matters: Gizzard shad belong the Clupeidae family a fish – a group commonly known as the herrings. This family contains several salt-water species that are highly valued by commercial anglers. Most members of the herring family are silver, flat-sided fish that are easily recognizable by the row of sharp-edged scales along their midline.

Length: Adults are commonly nine to 14 inches in length, but specimens up to 20 inches have been found.

Diet: Gizzard shad feed on microscopic invertebrates (zooplankton), free-floating algae and small aquatic insect larvae. Food is obtained by filtering water through the fish’s system of long, closely set gill-rakers. This is why these fish are seldom caught by anglers – they have no instinctual interest in going after anything that’s offered on an angler’s hook.

Weight: Most adult gizzard shad weigh a pound or less, but some have been known to grow to more than three pounds.

Distinguishing characteristics: The upper parts of the body are silvery-blue, which gradually changes to a silvery-white on the lower sides of the body and the belly. Adults have a large purplish spot just behind the upper end of their gill openings. Gizzard shad travel in large, more or less constantly moving schools that are often located near the water’s surface. It frequently leaps clear of the water or skips along its surface, thus earning the nickname “skipjack.”

Life span: Four to six years is the average life span, but some gizzard shad have been known to live up to 10 years.

Habitat: Gizzard shad inhabit a variety of quiet-water habitats; including natural lowland lakes and ponds, man-made reservoirs, and the pools and back-water areas of streams.

Life cycle: Gizzard shad usually spawn in Missouri from April well into the summer. Most spawning takes place in the shallow areas of coves and inlets. After spawning, the adhesive eggs that are released by the female sink to the bottom and attach to the first object they come in contact with. Eggs hatch in two to seven days.


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