The Delaware River is critical to the health of many animals, and for the people of Philadelphia! It’s the source of our drinking water, and home to all the animals painted on our mural. Many rivers along the east coast have been dammed, but not the Delaware – It’s the longest free-flowing river in the Eastern United States! This makes it incredibly valuable for many fish, like Fishtown’s namesake fish, the shad, who live most of their lives in the ocean then come up stream to breed. People have lived on the banks of the Delaware River for over 10,000 years. The turtle clan of the Lenni-Lenape had been the caretakers for the Delaware for centuries, and continue to hold pow wows in Penn Treaty Park annually. We hope you take a moment to appreciate what the river does for us and our animal neighbors. Learn more about what you can do to support river health here!
Shad and Freshwater Mussels
Fishtown got its “fish” from the shad! In the 1800s, Fishtown was a major hub for the Delaware River estuary’s shad fishery. Eventually overfishing and river pollution tanked their populations, but some shad still live here today. Much like salmon, shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, then swim up rivers like the Delaware to breed. Dams in rivers prevent fish like the shad from reaching their spawning grounds. The Delaware is undammed making it a wonderful place for restoration of this historically and ecologically important fish!
North America has more species of Freshwater mussels than anywhere else on earth! Freshwater mussels are an incredibly important member of the river ecosystem because of the multiple services they provide. Mussels bury themselves in the sediment where they help to stabilize the riverbed. This prevents stormwater washing much of the riverbed away during large influxes of water. They also remove particulates from the water from their filter feeding. The Philadelphia water department is raising freshwater mussels in their small-scale hatchery at the Fairmount Water Works! They currently raise and reintroduce about 10,000 mussels back into our water ways every year. They hope to scale up their operations in coming years to introduce 1 million mussels a year! The mussel life cycle is delightfully strange- when mussels are first born they need to find a fish "host" that they latch onto. They specifically grab onto the gills of fish (including our buddy the shad!) where they hang out and get nutrients from the fish's blood, then eventually hop off the fish to settle on the riverbed. Many freshwater mussel species are currently at risk for extinction due to pollution and habitat destruction, so this is super important work in restoring a native species.
Many Turtles live along and within the Delaware River! This species, the painted turtle lives all the way from Canada to Mexico all across the United States. They have a very cool adaptation for dealing with super cold temperatures of North America- their blood contains a protein that acts like anti-freeze to prevent them from freezing to death in the winter!
The turtle is of special importance to people of Fishtown, because the Lenape tribe from this area is the turtle clan!
Brook trout live within rivers, streams and creeks all throughout the Eastern United States. They are particularly sensitive to increases in temperature and competition from other fish- even other kinds of trout that didn't used to live around here! They are very closely related to salmon, but unlike their ocean-traveling cousins, these fish stay in fresh water their whole lives.