Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)

Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) – Alewife herring in Cecil County, Md. | Alewife swim against … | Flickr – by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

Worth knowing about the Alewife

The Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) belongs to the kingdom of animals, more specifically to the tribe Chordata. Here they are again subdivided into the class Actinopterygii, order of Clupeiformes, the family of Clupeidae, the subfamily of Alosinae, genus Alosa, and the species Alosa pseudoharengus.

This animal was first described in 1811 by Alexander Wilson (a Scottish-American poet, ornithologist, naturalist, and illustrator who was born in Paisley (Scotland)).

Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus): Synonyms

Clupea Megalops, Clupea parvula, Clupea pseudoharengus, Clupea vernalis, Clupea virescens, Meletta venosa, Pomolobus pseudoharengus

The Alewife has 13 congeners such as the herring, the American gizzard shad, the shad, the sardine, the American shad, the European sardine, the sprat, the round herring, the baltic herring, the black sea shad, the Sardinops, the round sardinella, and the twaite shad.

Herring | Jacob Bøtter | Flickr
Gizzard Shad Dorosoma cepedianum.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
Shad – Photo by PIXNIO
American Shad
European sardine –
Sprat – Sprot (Sprattus sprattus) –
Round Herring
Herring Fish Baltic Sea –
Black sea shad – (Alosa maeotica) –
Sardinops melanostictus
Round sardinella – Sardinella aurita.jpg –
Twaite shad -Wikimedia Commons
– File: Fint in hand.JPG – Wikimedia Commons


The common name of this fish species is said to come from its comparison with a corpulent female innkeeper (“ale-wife”).

The Alewife can grow up to 40 cm, but the average length is 30 cm. The heaviest specimen weighs about 200 grams. The oldest animal to be examined was 9 years old.

In general, these animals have a mainly silvery color with a gray-green back. Just after the head, there is a black spot at eye level (on the shoulder). It distinguishes itself in color from its congener the Blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) by its silvery peritoneum. When the Alewife is captured, its color changes back to gray-green.

Blueback herring

The eye is larger than the snout length. The front of the body is deep and larger than other fish found in the same waters

The animal has no dorsal and no anal spines. The body looks compressed with a clear keel of scutes on the belly. They have no scales on their heads.

The lower jaw is pointed straight up and the younger specimens have small teeth in the mouth at the front of the jaws. With age, those teeth disappear.

With age, the lower gill rakers will increase.

International names

  • Canada: Anadromous alewives, Gaspareau, Gaspereau, Gasperot
  • China: 淡水大眼鯡, 灰西鯡
  • Czechia: Placka atlantická, Placka velkooká
  • Denmark: Flodsild, Majsild, Stamsild
  • Estonia: Hallselg-aloosa
  • Finland: Harmaasilli, Kantasilli
  • France: Alose gaspareau, Gapareau, Gaspareau, Gasparot
  • Germany: Maifisch
  • Greece: Frissa, Sardellomána
  • Iceland: Augnasild
  • Italy: Alaccia, Alosa, Falsa-aringa atlantica
  • Netherlands: Amerikaanse rivierharing
  • Norway: Malsild, Stamsild
  • Poland: Aloza wielkooka a. aloza teczowa
  • Portugal: Alosa cinzenta, Alosa-cinzenta
  • Romania: Hering de primavara
  • Russia: Bol’sheglazyi pomolob, сероспинка, Сероспинка (=элевайф)
  • Serbia: Lojka, Scepa
  • Spain: Alosa, Pinchagua
  • Sweden: Gumsill
  • UK: Brench herring, Greyback, Kyak, Sawbelly
  • USA: Alewife, Bigeye herring, Branch herring, Freshwater herring, Gray herring, Grayback, Kyak, Sawbelly, White herring

Photos of the Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)

PIXNIO Free picture: alewife, fish
Location took: National Aquarium in Baltimore
The photo was taken in Indiana
Ripley’s Aquarium – School of Alewife Fish – by Daniel Kelly

Where can you find the Alewife?

This fish lives in North America and more specifically in the western Atlantic Ocean off the coast. More specifically in Labrador, Nova Scotia, and northeastern Newfoundland, Canada as far south as South Carolina, USA.

The animal is not picky about the soil type and lives in open waters. Some live in freshwater but the majority live in the saltwater of the sea.

  • Canada: New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario (introduced), Prince Edward Island, Quebec
  • USA: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan (introduced), Minnesota (introduced), New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tenessee (introduced), Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia (introduced), Wisconsin (introduced)

Alewife: Their nutrition

The Alewives who live inland eat the largest available zooplankton for their entire lives. Therefore, many populations specifically seek out such areas.

The larvae’s very first food is cyclopoid copepods. As soon as they grow to 11-12 cm, they also eat larger invertebrates, amphipods, and insects. In the Laurentian Great Lakes region, they also feed on the opossum shrimp (Mysis diluviana) and the blood-red shrimp (Hemimysis anomola).

Cyclopoid Copepod – 2.0 mm long (body + egg sacs) – by David Reed –
Opossum shrimp – by Art –
Blood red shrimp – by Frozen With Time –

They also eat their own larvae as well as the larvae of other fish and small juveniles.

The Alewives are good hunters in the open water, but they have trouble catching prey that is on or near the bottom.

They can eat at night using three methods: particulate, filter, and swallow.

How do these animals mate?

These are anadromous fish which means that they live in the sea during their lifetime but to spawn they migrate to the freshwater of rising rivers and streams. The youngsters, therefore, stay for a while in the coastal lakes and streams.

Notwithstanding this fact, there are also a few that go through their full life cycle in freshwater.

Since they are not picky, these fish can spawn in a variety of living conditions.

They can become invasive if one introduces the Alewives to lakes and reservoirs.

Alewife in the human diet

Although the Alewives are nutritious thanks to the high amount of proteins, vitamin D, and omega-3s, it is still difficult to eat because there are so many small bones present. In certain locations, they are offered smoked (sometimes called “bloaters”). In season, for example, they can be obtained at Jess’s Market in Rockland, Maine.

Sometimes they are also eaten fermented, salted, and raw.

Ironically, the Alewives themselves are used as bait by the fishermen.

Below you will find a recipe with herring as it is prepared in my country (Belgium) and in the Netherlands:

Recipe: Whole wheat crostini with herring and apple cream

Whole wheat crostini with herring and apple cream

Herring and an apple don’t seem like an obvious combination, but the freshness of the apple and the fatness of the herring complement each other perfectly. Try it for yourself! Twelve herring snacks for you and the visitors.

Ingredients for 10 persons:

  • 3 salted herrings, in strips
  • 3 slices of wholemeal bread without crust, toasted
  • 100 g cottage cheese
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 shallot, grated or finely chopped
  • ½ apple, grated
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • a few radishes, sliced


  1. Cut the bread slices diagonally into quarters.
  2. Mix cottage cheese, garlic, shallot, apple, pepper, and parsley. Spread this on the crostinis.
  3. Put the herrings on top and garnish with slices of radish.


This fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against cardiovascular diseases and fit into a healthy diet.

How do you fish for Alewife?

Fishing for Alewives mainly occurs in the spring when the adult females migrate to their spawning grounds. They prefer to swim upstream and it is then that they are caught with large nets in the narrow passages with shallower places.

The fishermen use the Alewive as bait for spring lobster fishing (as in Maine).

Enemies of the Alewife

These fish have a multitude of enemies, such as walleye, whitefish, burbot, lake trout, bass, and eels. On top of that are introduced species such as chinook and coho salmon.

Piscivorous birds such as the heron, as well as other aquatic mammals including minks and otters, are also predators.

Burbot collected in a trawl on the USGS R/V Sturgeon as part of a July 2015 Lake Michigan Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) research. Credit: NOAA
Walleye – by David Kinney –
Trout – by Carlos Scheidegger –
Bass – Florida Fish and Wildlife – Huge bass like this one will now qualify for the Florida bass Hall of Fame. –
Whitefish from Lake Michigan. Note smaller body sizes of top and bottom fish. Photo from S. Pothoven. January 2009. –
Eels – by Tobze –
Chinook salmon – An Idaho chinook salmon. BLM photo. –
Coho salmon – Sampling a Coho Salmon exposed to urban runoff. Photo – K. King / USFWS –
Heron – by Dominique Blanc-Tardif –
American mink – taken at the British Wildlife Centre on 30th May 2010 – by Marie Hale –
Otters – Chester Zoo –

Endangered Species?

These animals mainly swim in schools, but if the schools really get too big, a periodic death can occur and the dead fish wash ashore. This obviously causes odor and sanitary problems.

One could say that they are then a threat to themselves. In general, there are enough Alewives and so we cannot speak of extinction.


This is where I come to the end of this article. I hope you found it interesting and of course, any questions, additional information, comments, ambiguities, or untruths can always be left behind. Thanks in advance!

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