Dead alewives

Alewives on Lake Champlain have died off by the thousands this spring on the lake's eastern shore.

Spring is a time of year where we see big changes, obviously. And for fish in some bodies of water, that can be a problem. Every spring we hear of a mass die-off or two on different waters, which occur for a variety of reasons.

Lake Champlain experienced one in recent days, as Vermont fisheries officials documented a big kill of non-native alewives in the central part of the lake. Details are below from a Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department press release.

So far, we haven't heard of any on the south end of the lake, but alewives can be found in the Crown Point and Ticonderoga areas at times.

White perch and other smaller species go through this in the spring as well.

-- Don Lehman

MILTON, Vt Large numbers of small fish called alewives are washing up on the shores of Lake Champlain in Milton and Georgia. State fisheries biologists from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department say it is an example of the kind of problems non-native invasive fish species can cause. 

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First documented in Lake Champlain in 2005, alewives are now well established and found throughout the lake. 

"Unfortunately, dead alewives washing up on the shores of Lake Champlain following a winter die-off has become a common occurrence," said State Fisheries Biologist Shawn Good.  “Alewives are an invasive fish species native to the Atlantic Ocean, and they are not well adapted to winters in freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain.  They are highly susceptible to fluctuations in water temperature that occur in the winter and are easily killed when this happens."

Good says dead alewives tend to stay preserved for long periods of time in cold water, but as ice cover melts in the spring, they wash up on shore in large numbers.   

"Invasive fish species like alewives can have many negative repercussions to our native fish communities, as well as impacting the general public when large die-offs occur like we’re seeing again this spring,” said Good.  “The movement and introduction of fish from one water to another, whether accidental or purposeful, is illegal and can threaten Vermont’s aquatic ecosystems and the fishing opportunities they provide.

Good says while some anglers may think introducing a new fish species to their favorite lake or pond will provide a new fishing opportunity or provide food for game fish already inhabiting the waterbody, the reality is that non-native fish introductions almost always have unwanted, negative consequences.

"The great fishing we enjoy today could be gone tomorrow if aquatic nuisance fish species are allowed to spread," he cautioned.  “We all need to work together to slow or prevent the spread of exotic species and protect Vermont’s native fish and the fishing opportunities they provide.”

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reporter - crimes & courts, public safety and Warren County government

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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