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Boaters on the Santee Cooper lakes and in the upper Santee, Congaree and Wateree rivers may notice numbers of dead or dying American shad in the water during late spring and early summer. This is a result of the natural life cycle of these fish rather than a mysterious fish kill.

American shad are anadromous fish, meaning they spend most of their adult life in the ocean but return to the rivers where they were born to spawn, according to Steve Leach, freshwater fisheries biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at Dennis Wildlife Center in Bonneau. In northern climates shad may return to spawn several years in a row after reaching maturity. But in the southern United States, shad usually die after spawning for the first and only time. The process of returning to the natal stream, spawning, and then dying completes the life cycle for the shad.

"While the sight and smell of these fish carcasses may be unappealing, this aspect of the life cycle is actually beneficial," Leach said. "Since the shad have grown in coastal waters rather than in the lakes, they bring nutrients from outside the system (in the form of their bodies), which are recycled into the Santee Cooper system after the shad die. This process is similar to adding compost to the backyard garden. The dying shad and carcasses can also be an important source of food for a variety of wildlife such as alligators, catfish, osprey, bald eagles, turtles, and otters."

Anyone with questions concerning dead American shad in the lakes or rivers should contact the DNR's Dennis Wildlife Center at (843) 825-3388 in Bonneau near Moncks Corner in Berkeley County.
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