One species that seems to be filling the void vacated by West Coast salmon is the American shad, the largest member of the herring family. Who knows, maybe this non-native import from the Atlantic would have thrived anyway, but it’s hard to dismiss the idea that all that habitat altered by the damming of large western rivers has been waiting for a tenant.
Though I never enjoy killing a fish, taking home a burlap sack filled with shad doesn’t feel so bad. Several million shad returned to the Columbia last year. (I can’t dig up the actual number because WDFW and ODFW have enough fish-related problems to worry about much less keeping tabs on healthy fish runs.) Without much of a commercial fishery, most of those fish are available to recreational anglers, who barely put a dent in the population. With shad season coming up, it’s time to polish off the stack of last year’s cans in the basement and tie up some darts for the ’08 run.
Usually I’ll fillet and smoke a mess of shad for the freezer and have the rest canned. Smoked and canned shad is reminiscent of canned tuna, only richer and gamier. Some people (who don’t like fish) think of it as fishy; their disinterest means more for the rest of us. The cans lend themselves most obviously to casual lunch sandwiches, but you can also make an easy hors d’oeuvre for dinner parties: Shad on a Shingle. Adorn crackers with a dollop of smoked shad salad, which might include diced onion, mayo, seasoning, lemon juice, and a pinch of chopped parsley. Serve this and you’ll know straight away who the real fish lovers are.