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Dead alewife fish plague Lake Michigan beaches

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Wiki Media Commons
Alewife fish.

Millions of dead alewife fish are appearing on the beaches of Lake Michigan. The fish are as far south as Grand Haven and as far north as the Mackinac Bridge.

Jay Wesley is the Lake Michigan basin coordinator with the Michigan DNR. Wesley says Alewife can harm other fish populations in the Great Lakes and that salmon play a key role in managing this population.

Researchers do not know exactly why this is happening, but one leading theory is the fish are competing for a limited supply of food and salmon are not eating them fast enough.

That’s according to Jay Wesley, the Lake Michigan basin coordinator with the Michigan DNR.

"And so there's just not the same amount of food as there used to be for Alewife," said Wesley. "So, we're kind of learning this new balance in the Lake. How much can the Lake support in terms of Alewife? And then, in return, how many salmon can we have in the Lake?"

Wesley says this is the most significant Alewife die off since 2010—but when compared to the 1960s—it does not even come close to when bulldozers were required to clear the beaches of Alewife.

"There's a delicate balance we try to strike with having enough Alewife out there to feed the salmon, but not so many that we have die offs and a lot of fish washing on the beach."

In the interest of transparency, we note the Michigan DNR is a financial supporter of this station.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.