Scientific Name: Alosa pseudoharengus

Shawn Good, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bugwood.orgCopyright Info

Identification: The alewife is a small herring that is silvery blue/green in color. It has a dark back as well as light sides with horizontal dark stripes.

Size: This species can grow up to 15 inches (38 cm) in length. Inland populations, such as those in the Great Lakes, are usually smaller than 10 inches (25 cm) in length.

Native Range: Alewife is native to both saltwater and freshwater habitats of the Atlantic Coast from Labrador to South Carolina.

Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Alosa pseudoharengus are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceYear of earliest observationYear of last observationTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
Illinois194920183Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien; Pike-Root
Indiana195619992Lake Michigan; Little Calumet-Galien
Michigan1933201419Betsie-Platte; Betsy-Chocolay; Carp-Pine; Detroit; Fishdam-Sturgeon; Keweenaw Peninsula; Lake Erie; Lake Huron; Lake Michigan; Lake St. Clair; Lake Superior; Muskegon; Ontonagon; Pere Marquette-White; Raisin; St. Clair; St. Marys; Sturgeon; Waiska
Minnesota195620064Baptism-Brule; Beaver-Lester; Lake Superior; St. Louis
New York1868201512Black; Chaumont-Perch; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Champlain; Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Raisin River-St. Lawrence River; Salmon-Sandy; Saranac River; Seneca; St. Regis
Ohio193120137Ashtabula-Chagrin; Black-Rocky; Cedar-Portage; Chautauqua-Conneaut; Huron-Vermilion; Lake Erie; Sandusky
Pennsylvania193120061Lake Erie
Vermont199720182Lake Champlain; Mettawee River
Wisconsin1952201710Beartrap-Nemadji; Door-Kewaunee; Lake Michigan; Lake Superior; Lower Fox; Manitowoc-Sheboygan; Milwaukee; Peshtigo; Pike-Root; St. Louis

Table last updated 9/30/2019

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for areas where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Means of Introduction: In 1873, alewife was first identified from the Great Lakes in Lake Ontario. Some believe, however, that the alewife is native to Lake Ontario. Others think the Erie Canal or the stocking of fish may have led to the species’ introduction in the lake. Either way, alewife is not native to the other Great Lakes. Niagara Falls originally prevented alewife from spreading from Lake Ontario into Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes Basin. The Welland Canal, opened in 1829, bypassed Niagara Falls and provided a route for their movement. By the 1950s, alewife was reported in all of the Great Lakes. The alewife is the dominant fish in Lake Michigan and accounts for 70-90 percent of the lake’s total fish weight.

Status: This herring is now in the Great Lakes and many states throughout eastern North America and the Midwest, as far west as Colorado.

Remarks: Pacific salmonids were introduced to control alewife populations and to use alewife as a food source for sport fisheries.

Author: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Contributing Agencies:
NOAA Sea Grant GLRI Logo

Revision Date: 4/23/2012

Citation for this information:
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, 2019, Alewife: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI,, Revision Date: 4/23/2012, Access Date: 10/13/2019

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.