Alosa aestivalis
Alosa aestivalis
(Blueback Herring)
Fishes
Native Transplant
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Alosa aestivalis (Mitchill, 1814)

Common name: Blueback Herring

Synonyms and Other Names: blueback shad, river herring

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: This fish is silvery in color, has a series of scutes (modified scales that are spiny and keeled) along its belly, and is characterized by deep bluish green backs. The most distinguishing characteristic of this species is the black to dusky in color of its peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity). Blueback Herring and Alewife are difficult to distinguish from one another and are often regarded collectively as river herring. Alewife has larger eyes, greater body depth, and pearly to white peritoneal linings. Jenkins and Burkhead (1994); Owens et al. (1998); Page and Burr (1991); Smith (1985); Whitehead (1985).

Size: 40 cm

Native Range: Atlantic Coast from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to the St. Johns River, Florida. Ascends coastal rivers during spawning season (Page and Burr 1991).

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Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Blueback Herring was first collected in Lake Ontario in 1995. It has been collected from the Tennessee River in Georgia and Tennessee (Rassmussen 1998). Currently established in Tellico and Norris Reservoirs in Tennessee (J. Negus, personal communication). Established in Oneida Lake, the Oswego River in Minetto, Lake Champlain, and the upper Mohawk River upstream of Cohoes Falls, New York (Greeley 1935; Limburg et al. 2001; D. MacNeill and R. Owens, personal communication). In North Carolina, Blueback Herring were introduced into the Savannah, Broad, and Yadkin drainages, and into nonnative areas of the Cape Fear and Roanoke drainages (Menhinick 1991; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). It has been introduced to an unspecified location in the Chesapeake Bay basin in Pennsylvania (Christmas et al. 2000). Blueback Herring were accidently introduced into Lakes Jocassee and Keowee, South Carolina, between 1972-1974 (Prince and Barwick 1981); they have now been collected from most reservoirs in the Savannah River system and in Lake Murray (Rohde et al. 2009). Stock obtained from the Cooper River, South Carolina was released in Texas by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Lake Theo, Briscoe County, in 1982 (Guest 1983; Howells 1992). This population persisted until August 1988 (Schramm et al. 1991). Blueback Herring have been collected from Lake Champlain, Vermont (S. Good, personal communication). Blueback Herring have been stocked in several inland reservoirs in Virginia, including Smith Mountain Lake, Occoquan Reservoir, Kerr Reservoir, and lakes Anna, Brittle, and Chesdin (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994).

Ecology: Anadromous; living in marine systems and spawning in deep, swift freshwater with a hard substrate. Migrate to spawning grounds in the spring. In Connecticut, Blueback Herring spawn in 14–27oC temperatures. Usually spawns later in the spring than Alewife, when water temperatures are slightly warmer. During spawning, many eggs are deposited over the stream bottom where they stick to gravel, stones, logs, or other objects. Juveniles spend 3–7 months in freshwater, then migrate to the ocean (Yako et al. 2002). Blueback Herring are a planktivorous forage species (Winkelman and Van Der Avyle 2002).

The landlocked Lake Theo, Texas population attained a smaller maximum size and had a shorter life span than anadromous native populations (Schramm et al. 1991).

Means of Introduction: In most areas other than New York, these fish were intentionally stocked for forage. In New York these fish are expanding their range using ship locks and canals. Blueback Herring was first recorded in the Mohawk River upstream of Cohoes Falls in 1934 (Greeley 1935). They were reported from Lake Champlain on the New York side in the late 1970s, and from the Vermont side in 1997. Juveniles were apparently present in Oneida Lake by 1981 or 1982. Adults were first documented in 1994 by Cornell researchers based at Shackleton Point. Several thousand immature fish were also documented in 1994 at a power plant in Minetto on the Oswego River. Two immature fish were caught in Lake Ontario near Oswego in October 1995 by U.S. Geological Survey personnel conducting fish surveys (R. Owens, personal communication). Blueback Herring in Jocassee and Keowee Reservoirs, South Carolina, were accidentally included in Threadfin Shad (Dorosoma petenense) stockings in 1972 and 1974 (Prince and Barwick 1981); the population in Lake Murray, SC, is likely the result of a bait bucket introduction.

Status: Established in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. Extirpated in Texas.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown, very likely to find suitable habitat throughout the Great Lakes system. GARP models predict it could find the entire region as suitable habitat, except possibly the deeper waters of Lake Superior (USEPA 2008). If Blueback Herring became established in Lake Ontario, they could spread to other Great Lakes and impede recovery of depressed populations of indigenous fishes such as Cisco and Lake Trout (Owens et al. 1998). Cold water may prevent its establishment.

The introduction of Blueback Herring into Theo Reservoir in Briscoe County, Texas resulted in the elimination of large-bodied zooplankton such as Leptora, Epischura, Mesocyclops, and Daphnia, while small-bodied zooplankton such as Cerio-daphnia, Tropocyclops and Bosmina increased. There appeared to be little change in lengths of the zooplankton in the reservoir after herring introduction, but the community shifted from cladoceran to copepod dominance (Guest and Dremmer 1991)

Remarks: One of the most common fish species in the Hudson River estuary (Hurst et al. 2004). Detection of a small population of Blueback Herring in Lake Ontario would be difficult because of the size of the Lake relative to the area routinely sampled and the herring's superficial similarity with Alewife, a fish sampled in large enough numbers that only a fraction of the adults are examined closely enough to distinguish between the two species (Owens et al. 1998). Owens et al. (1998) also asserted that colonizing a lake with resident population of Alewife, a fish that would be in direct competition with Blueback Herring for space and resources, and a surfeit of piscivores, both stocked and unstocked, may prove too difficult for A. aestivalis.

References: (click for full references)

Clearwater, S.J., C.W. Hickey, and M.L. Martin. 2008. Overview of potential piscicides and molluscicides for controlling aquatic pest species in New Zealand. Science & Technical Publishing, New Zealand Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.

Christmas, J., R. Eades, D. Cincotta, A. Shiels, R. Miller, J. Siemien, T. Sinnott, and P. Fuller. 2000. History, management, and status of introduced fishes in the Chesapeake Bay basin. Proceedings of the Conference of Biological Diversity, May 10-13, 1998. Annapolis, MD.

GLMRIS. 2012. Appendix C: Inventory of Available Controls for Aquatic Nuisance Species of Concern, Chicago Area Waterway System. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Good, S. - Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pittsford, VT.

Greeley, J.R. 1935. Fishes of the watershed with an annotated list. Pages 63-101 in Moore, E. (ed.). A biological survey of the Mohawk-Hudson watershed. Supplemental to the 24th annual report of the New York State Conservation Department. Albany, NY.

Guest, W.C. 1983. Blueback herring evaluation. Federal Aid Project F-31-R-9.

Guest, W.C., and R.W. Drenner. 1991. Relationship between feeding of blueback herring and the zooplankton community of a Texas reservoir. Hydrobiologia 209(1):1-6.

Howells, R.G. 1992. Annotated list of introduced non-native fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants in Texas waters. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Management Data Series 78, Austin, TX. 19 pp.

Hurst, T.P., K.A. McKown, and D.O. Conover. 2004. Interannual and long-term variation in the nearshore fish community of the mesohaline Hudson River Estuary. Estuaries 27(4):659-669.

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Limburg, K.E., I. Blackburn, R. Schmidt, T. Lake, J. Hasse, M. Elfman, and P. Kristiansson. 2001. Otolith microchemistry indicates unezpected patterns of residency and anadromy in blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis, in the Hudson and Mowhawk rivers. Bulletin Français de la Pêche et de la Pisciculture 362-363:931-938.

MacNeill, D. - New York Sea Grant, State University of New York at Brockport, Brockport, NY.

Marsden, J.E., and M. Hauser. 2009. Exotic species in Lake Champlain. Journal of Great Lakes Research 35(2):250-265.

Menhinick, E.F. 1991. The Freshwater Fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. 227 pp.

Negus, J. - Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Morristown, TN.

New York State Depertment of Environmental conservation (NYDEC). 2012. NY River herring management. http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/76525.html. Accessed 29 July 2012.

Owens, R. - U.S. Geological Survey, Oswego, NY.

Owens, R.W., R. O'Gorman, E.L. Mills, L.G. Rudstam, J.J. Hasse, B.H. Kulik, and D.R. MacNeill. 1998. Blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) in Lake Ontario: First record, entry route, and colonization potential. Journal of Great Lakes Research 24(3):723-730.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Prince, E.D., and D.H. Barwick. 1981. Landlocked Blueback Herring in two South Carolina reservoirs: reproduction and suitability as stocked prey. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 1(1):41-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1577/1548-8659(1981)1<41:LBHITS>2.0.CO;2.

Rohde, F.C., R.G. Arndt, J.W. Foltz, and J.M. Quattro. 2009. Freshwater fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC.

Schramm, H.L., Jr., G.A. Conley, and W.C. Guest. 1991. Age and growth of a landlocked population of blueback herring and management implications. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 45:323-332.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY. 522 pp.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2008. Predicting future introductions of nonindigenous species to the Great Lakes. EPA/600/R-08/066F. National Center for Environmental Assessment, Washington, DC, 138 pp. http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=190305

Whitehead, J.P. 1985. FAO Species Catalogue. Vol. 7. Clupeoid Fishes of the World (Suborder Clupeoidei). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the herrings, sardines, pilchards, sprats, anchovies and wolf-herrings. Part 1 - Chirocentridae, Clupeidae and Pristigasteridae. FAO Fisheries Synopsis (125) Vol. 7, Pt. 1:303 pp.

Winkelman, D.L., and M.J. Van Der Avyle. 2002. A comparison of diets of blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) and threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) in a large southeastern reservoir. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 17(2): 209-221.

Yako, L.A., and M.E. Mather. 2000. Assessing the contribution of anadromous herring to largemouth bass growth. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 129(21):77-88.

Yako, L.A., M.E. Mather, and F. Juanes. 2002. Mechanisms for migration of anadromous herring: An ecological basis for effective conservation. Ecological Applications 12(2): 521-534.

Other Resources:
Alosa spp. (ANS Clearinghouse Bibliography)

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Great Lakes Water Life

FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Fuller, P., G. Jacobs, J. Larson, A. Fusaro, and M. Neilson

Revision Date: 6/26/2014

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., G. Jacobs, J. Larson, A. Fusaro, and M. Neilson. 2017. Alosa aestivalis. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL.
https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=488 Revision Date: 6/26/2014


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [6/29/2017].

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