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It's shad roe season in the Lowcountry, and at least one district is ready to celebrate it

Shad

Mess of shad (File)

Q: Does anyone have suggestions locally on shad roe?

A: Not so very many years ago, this was one of the great harbingers of spring that downtown Charleston restaurants raced to trumpet. But it’s lately been quiet on the shad roe front, in part, because chefs who appreciate the value of sustainable seafood aren’t entirely sure how to classify the egg sac of an anadromous herring. (That’s the scientific way of saying a fish lives primarily in saltwater, but returns to a river to spawn.)

“While I love celebrating the tradition of this regional ingredient, I’m conflicted on how its sourcing aligns with our dedication to sustainability,” The Grocery’s Kevin Johnson said in a statement provided by his publicist. Johnson added that he’s concerned about over-fishing and “specifically targeting a struggling fish population for its eggs.”

Johnson concedes he could put shad meat on his menu but he’s been daunted by customers’ disinterest and the hundreds of tiny bones that compose the shad skeletal system.

“Maybe, this year, I'll give shad fillets a shot on our menu to equalize all of the roe sales,” he says.

According to the chair of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s shad advisory panel, there’s no reason why Johnson shouldn’t pursue that plan.

Pointing out that South Carolina developed a sustainable fishery management plan for shad in the wake of a 2007 assessment that revealed American shad populations had hit historic lows, Pam Gromen says:

“While I would not advocate for a nationwide push to include shad roe on the menu, I believe it is important to value local culture and support coastal communities and fishermen who are working collaboratively with their state fishery managers to recover shad stocks and ensure sustainable fisheries.”

Gromen, who serves as executive director of the conservation group Wild Oceans, says, “I believe the key to shopping sustainable seafood is to ask the store, vendor or restaurant where the fish was caught, and if they cannot supply an answer, do not buy it.”

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But so long as the answer involves one of the South Carolina river systems governed by the state’s plan, shad roe fans are in the clear.

(And for those who still have cold feet about consumption, it might help to know that most migrating Southeastern shad die after they reach their destination. So not only has the state signed off on the health of the overall stock, but the fate of the adult who gave her roe to enhance the grits on your plate was essentially sealed prior to harvest.)

One of those rivers is the Lynche River, which will yield the shad for the second annual Pee Dee Shad Roe-Deo in Marion on March 28.

“Some people who were a little bit iffy on the roe,” Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau director Holly Beaumier says of the crowd at the inaugural event, sponsored by the Friends of Revolutionary Rivers, Pee Dee Land Trust and Pee Dee Tourism Commission.

She continues, “It just wasn’t what they were expecting, but other than that everyone was really delighted.”

This year’s festivities, priced at $75 a ticket, will feature a deboning demonstration, silent auction and “a really great spread of shad cooked different ways,” including shad steaks planked over a pit fire. Fish House Punch and bacon-wrapped shad roe are also on the menu. For more information, visit forevr.us.

Or, if you’d prefer to try shad roe closer to home, Russ Moore at S.N.O.B. is serving it for the duration of the short season, meaning this is the week to order it.

“The night prep will change daily, but it’s usually wrapped in bacon with scrambled eggs at brunch,” he says.

Eggs upon eggs. Sounds like spring.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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