Don't be surprised if you are at a beach on Lake Michigan that there are a high number of dead alewife in the sand.

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What Is An Alewife?

Ill woman at home
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What is an alewife? Well, it is not a guy's ailing wife if that is what you were thinking.

Alewife Herring Spawning in Deer Creek, a tributary to the Susquehanna River
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Alewife is a species of herring that is found in North America. Alewife is not native to Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, or Lake Ontario. Alewife originally came from the northwest Atlantic Ocean via the Welland Canal sometime in the 1920s and 1930s.

Salted herring lie in hand isolated on the white background
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Alewife is normally considered shad or minnows but can grow up to 9 inches in length.

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You can eat the bigger ones. Some Michiganders also smoke them like you would herring from the ocean.

Photo taken in Toronto, Canada
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Alewife had a huge population surge between the 1950s and 1980s and piles of them were found on beaches after their mating season. Some piles were so big excavating equipment had to be used to remove them.

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Jarrod1/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Alewife originates as a saltwater fish that breeds in freshwater with some populations living entirely in freshwater like those in the Great Lakes.

Migrating salmon in the Columbia River.
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Pacific salmon were introduced in order to help control the alewife population. It helped but the good news for Lake Michigan is a lot of fish feed on the alewife so the numbers have been more under control over the past 30 years.

Alewife Dying Off in Large Numbers in Lake Michigan

Dried, dead minnows.
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WOOD-TV reported that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced a large season die-off of alewife that extends from Muskegon all the way up to Cross Village and out to the Beaver Island complex.

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DNR says the die-off is not a disease or pollution-related just occurring naturally during their spawning just in larger numbers than seen in recent years.

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