Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
Painting of an alewife - Credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Daune Raver
Painting of an alewife. Credit: Daune Raver/USFWS


Alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) are closely related to blueback herring. Both species are also collectively known as river herring. Alewives, lighter in color than bluebacks, are grayish/silver dorsally and white ventrally. Their relatively large eyes help to distinguish them from American shad. Alewife adults average less than 12 inches in length and weigh about half a pound.

Alewife  - Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alewife. Credit: USFWS

Life History

Alewives are anadromous, migrating from the ocean to freshwater specifically to reproduce. Adults enter the Connecticut River as early as March and spawn through June in ponds and slow-moving waters. Juveniles are found in the watershed throughout the spring, summer, and fall, foraging in the mainstem of the Connecticut River before they migrate to the ocean.


Alewives are found from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, with landlocked populations in the Great Lakes and in lakes and ponds along the East Coast. They are native to the Connecticut River, where they only utilize the lowest portion of the watershed (up to the Connecticut/Massachusetts boundary, about 70 miles upstream). The State of Connecticut also manages landlocked alewife populations as forage for game species in lakes and ponds.


The alewife is protected under the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act. Alewife numbers decreased throughout the 1800's and the first half of the 1900's due to pollution and dams. The restoration efforts begun in the 1960's have helped to restore these populations. However, alewives have become very popular as bait and food and are easily netted in large quantities during spawning runs. Some runs have decreased recently due to over-fishing. Striped bass, as predators, may also be taking a toll on numbers.

Restoration Efforts

The alewife is a Federal trust fish, meaning that the Federal government has some responsibility for its recovery. Concern has been raised as a result of the species' recent decline in the watershed. Restoration work is underway, including the construction of fish passage facilities in Connecticut to provide access to more spawning grounds. The State of Connecticut operates a program to assist runs of alewife, especially along the coast. Federal agencies, private conservation groups, and sport organizations are also participating in alewife restoration efforts. Populations continue to be monitored. Habitat surveys for alewives and blueback herring have been performed in both Connecticut and Massachusetts.

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Last updated: September 8, 2010
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