Landlocked Alewife (or Herring)
( Alosa pseudoharengus )
This is by far the Number 1 Fish in our lake's ecology system. We may have paid $10.00 each for our Muskies but our alewives are far much more valuable. The alewife is one of the smaller members of the river herring family (Clupedae) which includes various shad, sardines, pilchards and menhaden. All members of the herring family are silvery thin bodied fishes that have no adipose fin or lateral line. Their scales are loosely attached and form a saw-toothed keel along their belly, hence the nick name "sawbellies". The alewife is an anadromous marine fish that finds its ways into freshwater rivers and streams each Spring to spawn. It is thought these fish first came to Lake Hopatcong via the old Morris Canal and became land-locked with the buliding of the dam in the 1800's. It is believed that Lake Hopatcong was the first north Jersey lake to become populated with alewives as far back as 1850. The alewives travel in schools with others of its kind, feeding mainly on plankton, minute animal organisms, and insect life found in the water. While the Sea-run alewives may grow to a length of 15 inches the landlocked alewives are much smaller with an adult average size of 5 inches. A previous study by State Biologist Dick Gross back in 1959 found our alewives to be sexually mature at the age of 2 and only lived to the age of 4. The alewives spend most of the year in open water, moving into the shallows to spawn over sandy gravel substrate in the Spring. Spawning is done by pairs or groups of three, the eggs are broadcast over the bottom and can hatch in 3 to 15 days, depending on water temperature. The herring family probably surpasses any other family of fish in terms of commercial value and our little landlocked alewives are no exception to the rule. During the year of 1995 the three commercial netters on Lake Hopatcong reported a combined total of 407,325 alewives harvested and that figure climbed to 558,400 for the year of 1996. Although they are extremely bony, the alewife's flesh is edible and quite tasty. They can be found along the Atlantic coast from Labrador to South Carolina. In some areas of the country they are taken during their run by rod & reel with tiny flies and bare gold plated hooks. Biologist Pat Hamilton reported seeing alewives while night electrofishing in 1995, but they quickly detected the electrical current and avoided capture. Our alewives appear to be fairly abundant yet their populations in Lake Hopatcong are actually unknown. Current sampling techniques are extremely labor intensive and therefore have not been done. There is some concern that the introduction of non-native predator fishes will result in increased competition for this valuable forage fish. Maintaining growth rates of our striped bass hybrids and other pradator fishes is the easiest way to monitor our alewife populations.