Raising alewives?

Mark Brooky • Oct 12, 2016 at 5:34 PM

Rory of Grand Haven asked, “I was just wondering if the DNR thought about planting alewives instead of reducing the number of salmon and lake trout they plant? It seems like it would be a whole lot cheaper.”


Those of us old enough to remember the alewives stench that permeated Lake Michigan beaches in the 1960s cringe at your suggestion, Rory.

However, I am certainly no fish expert, so I consulted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to answer the question. Jay Wesley, the Lake Michigan Basin coordinator for the DNR’s Fisheries Division, responded.

“If we stopped stocking our brown trout, coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead hatchery space in all six Michigan hatcheries to just raising alewife, we could stock enough alewife to sustain the current predators in Lake Michigan for two days,” he said.

Wesley asks us to do the math: Each Chinook salmon requires 20 pounds of alewife a year. The other species require 5-10 pounds a year.

“It is just not feasible to raise prey to feed the salmon and trout,” Wesley concluded. “Stocking efforts of prey are warranted if you are trying to reintroduce a new prey item.”

By the way, the alewife is native to the Atlantic Ocean. They made their way into the Great Lakes beginning in the 1950s. They exhibit seasonal die-offs; the worst around here was in the late 1960s. Their control was the impetus for the introduction of Pacific salmon species — first coho and later the Chinook salmon — to act as predators on them in the Great Lakes.

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