Shores of Lake Michigan collect dead alewife in rare mortality


DETROIT – People visiting Lake Michigan may be greeted by an abundance of dead fish.

One species experiences seasonal mortality extending from Muskegon, Michigan to Cross Village, Michigan – which is more than 200 miles to the north – and to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan.

The gaspereau, a small prey fish that can reach 2 to 9 inches in length, frequently passed through this summer event 20 to 60 years ago, but the occurrence has since become rare.

“Mass mortality is higher than normal this year and something we haven’t seen in years,” said Jay Wesley, Lake Michigan basin coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates that mortality is caused by a combination of poor winter conditions, temperature changes and spawning stress – not pollution or disease.

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Lake Michigan alewife experience seasonal mortality.

Not native to Michigan, alewife migrated from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes through the Welland Canal in the 1920s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also said the small fish spend most of the year in deep, cold water, migrating to coastal areas to spawn and forage. Some alewife come out of winter in a weakened state and cannot tolerate changing conditions such as wide temperature swings, the DNR said.

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The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies collect alewife annually to assess their condition and abundance in Lake Michigan.


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