Animals -> Fish -> Searun Fish -> Alewife


The Mi’kmaq and Eastern Abenaki are reported to consume alewife [1, 2], sometimes also called gaspereau [3, 4]. To obtain the fish, the Mi’kmaq used weirs built by placing wood stakes next to each other into the ground at the mouth of tidal streams or rivers in spring. They preserved their catch by cleaning, splitting and hanging the fish on short wooden racks over a smoky fire [1].

The Wampanoag are known to have eaten smoked alewife as a staple winter food. They caught them in freshwater ponds such as the Mashpee and Herring Ponds during their migration from the seas to freshwater ponds to spawn. They used a net made of twine with a two-inch wide mesh. One such net was square-shaped with its edges and center fixed to a pole in order to lift it from the water. The net was fastened to stone sinkers to submerge it in the water. The Wampanoag preserved alewife for later use by salting them on a stream bank and placing them in a barrel for four days. They would then dry them for three days and then smoke them on a stick in a smoke house in which the smoke was produced by burning white oak, sugar maple and sweet fern [5].


1.         Prins HEL: The Mi'kmaq: Resistance, Accommodation, and Cultural Survival, vol. Series: Case studies in Cultural Anthropology. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers; 1996.

2.         Snow DR: Eastern Abenaki. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. edn. Edited by Trigger BG. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978: 137-139.

3.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1951, 41(8):250-259.

4.         Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.

5.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of marine life by the Wampanoag Indians of Massachusetts. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1948, 38(8):257-265.

The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is a small searun fish occurring along the North American Atlantic coast, from Labrador to North Carolina, and migrating to freshwater to spawn, but some populations are landlocked and spend their entire life in freshwater, like in the Great Lakes. Those lake populations periodically undergo massive summer die-offs when carcasses invade the shores. Alewife are in the herring and shad family and are most closely related to the American shad (A. sapidissima). They are silvery and laterally-compressed with a single dorsal fin, a forked tail, no lateral line, obvious scales, and a unique dark spot at the eye-level behind the head. Searun alewife, reach up to 40 cm long and tend to be larger than landlocked one, rarely reaching more than 15 cm long.


"Alosa pseudoharengus" []


Images provided below were obtained from: Encyclopedia of Life. Available from
Supplier: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank
Publisher: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network
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