Advancing Monitoring and Management of Mid-Atlantic Alosine Fishes with eDNA Analysis

Principal Investigator:

Louis Plough

Start/End Year:

2020 - 2022


University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator:

Matthew B. Ogburn, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center


Strategic focus area:

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture


Anadromous alosine fishes (river herrings and shads) are critically important to ecosystem function, economies, and cultures of coastal communities, but have seen major declines in the mid-Atlantic region and the Chesapeake Bay in particular. We have developed and demonstrated the effectiveness of new monitoring tools for river herring (alewife and blueback herring) including environmental DNA (eDNA) and sonar image-based run counts that are rapidly improving our ability to study these species. However, additional eDNA monitoring of American shad and hickory shad, which lacks baseline data, is needed to establish habitat use in rivers across the mid-Atlantic. In addition, novel, high-resolution eDNA sampling for fish abundance estimation would greatly advance the utility of eDNA for fisheries management. In this project we will: 1) extend eDNA-based monitoring of alosine fishes in Chesapeake Bay to American and hickory shad by developing novel, species-specific qPCR assays for each fish, 2) test the capacity for high frequency eDNA sampling to accurately estimate river herring abundances (counts), comparing flow-corrected eDNA abundance to sonar-based run counts on the Choptank River, MD, and eDNA abundance to gill net survey counts on the Northeast River MD, and 3) use eDNA to examine habitat use of river herring and shads in the mid-Atlantic region and Chesapeake Bay, focusing sampling at fish passage projects in conjunction with non-profit and agency partnerships. We will disseminate research results through partnerships with non-profit, conservation, and government agencies employing eDNA data for monitoring, partner with state and federal scientists to evaluate application of eDNA to fisheries management through periodic briefings to an alosine eDNA steering committee, and continue multi-stakeholder workshops on river herring and shad monitoring and habitat use. The data generated as a result of this project should greatly improve the management and multi-stakeholder conservation prospects for all four species.

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