The Hudson River:
An Underwater Migration Thoroughfare
Hudson River Park's waters are teaming with life in May, the month of peak spring migration. If only you could see through the water’s greenish-brown murkiness, you would uncover an underwater thoroughfare equivalent to, or perhaps exceeding, the volume of travelers along the nearby Westside Highway. This is the time of year that Hudson River Park's waters are filled with migratory anadromous fishes – fishes that spend most of their adult life in salty ocean water only to leave the ocean each spring to journey through New York Harbor into the Park’s estuary waters, and then continue their travels upriver to reach their freshwater spawning grounds.
Among the earliest anadromous fishes to arrive in the Park each spring are small, silvery herring like the Alewife and the Blueback. These species frequently arrive in New York Harbor as early as March, and by May their migration through the Park is at its peak. The American Shad is another type of herring that can also be found migrating through the Park this time of year. American Shad, like other herring species, often arrive in the Park in schools of thousands. With an average adult size of 1 1/2 to 2 feet long, the American Shad is the largest of New York’s herrings. For centuries, Shad were one of the most important fish in the Hudson because they supported the river’s most significant commercial fishery. Not surprisingly, the Shad's popularity resulted in a dramatic decline in its population. As a result, Shad fishing in the Hudson was banned in 2010. This ban continues to remain in effect while restoration experts work to rebuild the population of this iconic Hudson River species.
Any knowledgable angler could tell you that the arrival of bait fish such as the smaller herrings are a telltale sign that the migration of the predatory Striped Bass is not far behind. By mid-May, the “Striper Run” is well underway with sport anglers scouring the entire 150 miles of the Lower Hudson River (from the New York Harbor to the Federal Dam in Troy) for a chance at catching a trophy-sized Striper. Hudson River Park's estuary waters are also well-known for playing another critical role in the Striped Bass lifecycle, serving as a nursery for small juveniles who take shelter in the Park's protective pile fields until they are large enough and strong enough to journey into the Atlantic Ocean as full grown adults.
And last, but surely not least, is the spawning migration of the river's gentle giant, the largest of all Hudson River fish - the Atlantic Sturgeon. Adult Atlantic Sturgeon are usually around 8-10 feet in length and weigh at least 200 pounds. These massive, prehistoric looking fish travel in the estuary's deeper waters, feeding on small organisms found along the river's bottom. At spawning time, male Atlantic Sturgeon start their journey from the ocean into the river ahead of their female counterparts. Females follow close behind to meet their mates and spawn in the river's freshwater region north of Poughkeepsie.
The next time you find yourself walking along Hudson River Park’s waterside esplanade, try to find a few minutes to stop and look into the river. While you may just be lucky enough to see a flicker of the bustling migration happening below, it is more likely that all you will see are the river's brownish green waves with white crests splashing against the bulkhead and piles. But maybe you will pause for just another moment longer and indulge your imagination - something none of us do as much as we should. If you stare out towards the center of the river, you could imagine a giant Atlantic Sturgeon traveling deep in the middle of the channel trying to avoid some of the larger ships that travel the same path. As you look toward the end of a pile field, you may imagine a school of thousands of sleek, silvery Blueback herrings dodging this way and that to avoid being eaten by the quickly approaching Striped Bass. Guaranteed - imagining a river bursting with life makes for a much more engaging experience. Enjoy!