Today in History: Run of the Alewife

Imagine my surprise when I checked my RSS reader to find that today is the traditional beginning of the run of the Alewife of Cape Cod.

“Running Alewives?” I said to myself (not being familiar with the running kind, since that might spill beer). “How curious. I must learn more.”

So I Googled “Alewife Run” and learned that Alewifes of the Atlantic are considerably different than the kind we have here in the Pacific. I know you’re all interested in being more educated, so here is a quick comparison of the two.

The Atlantic Alewife

Atlantic Alewife (Pomolobus  pseudoharengus)
Atlantic Alewife (Pomolobus pseudoharengus)

The Atlantic alewife is neither an ale-drinker nor actually a wife. It’s a fish. Technically a member of the herring family it’s about 10 to 11 inches (25 to 28 cm) and weighs 8 to 9 ounces in adulthood. The lack of teeth on the roof of its mouth distinguishes it from its relatives, the hickory shad and the blueback. Like the herring, the Atlantic alewife is a gray-green on the back and silvery along the sides and belly. It’s scales are iridescent green and violet.

Breeding Habits
Most interesting is the Atlantic alewife, like the salmon, lives most of its life in the sea, but makes its way to fresh water to spawn. Unlike the salmon, however, the alewife doesn’t seem to be particularly picky in the waterways they choose, running in everything from rivers the size of the Potomac to streams barely ankle deep — something early European settlers made note of. According to one eyewitness:

…experience hath taught them at New Plymouth that in April there is a fish much like a herring that comes up into the small brooks to spawn, and when the water is not knee deep they will presse up through your hands, yea, thow you beat at them with cudgels, and in such abundance as is incredible.

The alewife spawns in freshwater ponds in temperatures of about 55° to 60° and then quickly returns to the sea, apparently undamaged by the sudden change from salt to fresh and back to salt water again. The baby alewives hatch in June and generally head to sea by October.

More information of the Atlantic alewife can be found right here.

The Pacific Alewife

Pacific Alewife (Spousus Drinkulus)
Pacific Alewife (Spousus Drinkulus)

Unlike the Atlantic alewife, the Pacific alewife is both a wife and and ale consumer (“drinks like a fish,” you could say). A member of the human species adult alewives range anywhere from under five feet (1.5 meters) to substantially taller than that (the one pictured is about 5′ 4″). Weight varies considerably, and is not discussed. While indistinguishable in appearance from other types of wives — color can range anywhere from a light peachy-pink to a dark chocolate brown — Pacific alewives can generally be identified by their boisterous behavior and the presence of a beer in one of their hands. At night some may appear to be iridescent, due to the application of a colored powder or glitter.

Breeding Habits
Spawning behaviors of the Pacific alewife vary considerably from alewife to alewife with some only breeding in highly specific locations while others seem to be less choosy. Water is not required, but scientists (as well as those closely associated with Pacific alewives) believe the deciding factor often depends on the amount of ale consumed by the wife prior to spawning. Additionally, beating a Pacific alewife with a cudgel is not recommended.

Warmer temperatures — a minimum of 65°, with 70° or above considered optimal — are generally preferred for spawning behavior.

Nine months after spawning the alewife generally produces one (and occasionally two or more) live offspring to which the alewife and her mate attend to for 18 years or more (often much more to the chagrin of the mate).

Like her Atlantic counterpart, changing from salt to fresh to salt water does not seem to affect the Pacific alewife other than salt water seems to make her a little more “pruney”.

More information on the Pacific alewife can be found by speaking to anyone married to one.

Author: Sage
I'm a writer, marketing strategist, tech weenie and craft beer lover.

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