Everyone looks for the first harbingers of spring after a long winter. Most folks think of crocuses or the first Robin, but there is another early arrival – one that enters our local streams toward the end of February or early March each year. The Alewife, or River Herring (Alosa pseudoharengus), spends most of its life in the ocean and returns as an adult in early spring to spawn in freshwater. A number of our local Long Island streams support alewife spawning runs. Alewife numbers have decreased during the last half of the 1800’s and much of the past century due to Alewife pollution, harvest, and most destructively dam construction. Alewives are rather nondescript, light in color, grayish silver on top and white on their underside. One key distinguishing factor of the alewife is that they have relatively large eyes. Alewives generally average about 12 inches in length, with the females being the larger than the males. The adults congregate in Block Island Sound during the late winter and then as the water temperature warms they begin to move into local spawning streams and rivers. The adults spawn in the quiet waters of the stream or in any impoundment they can access. The adults then return to sea. The young alewives remain in or near their natal stream for a few months and then move out into the Atlantic Ocean. They spend the next 3 to 5 years at sea, eating plankton and smaller fish. Everyone loves the alewife: fish predators like striped bass, bluefish, tuna and sharks; mammal predators on shore including raccoons and otters; ocean mammals including seals and some whales; avian predators like the osprey and gulls; and of course humans. The species is used for lobster bait, fish bait, and food. Unfortunately, all of these mortality impacts along with the loss of alewife habitat caused by dams, pollution, and stream degradation have caused the alewife population to decline coast-wide. During the past couple of decades, efforts have been made in a number of coastal states to improve habitat and control harvesting to rebuild the stocks of this important link in the food web. Removing dams and constructing fish passages, are some strategies used. There have habitat improvements as a result of projects on Mill Neck Creek and Beaver Lake. Other areas of importance are Centerport, Northport, the Nissequogue River and many streams and waterways on the South Shore of Long Island. The WaterFront Center is helping out by monitoring the Mill stream that is just to the west of our building. If we find any signs of alewives we will report them to SeaTuck Environmental Association and the Long Island Sound Study. If there is a high congregation of fish below Mill dam, they might try and put in a fish ladder to help the fish make it into Mill Pond. Parts of the scientific community and citizen scientist are monitoring many streams, ponds, lakes and rivers on long island and trying to quantify the amount of herring that are here to see if we can help the fish stock to rebound from the historic low we have seen recently. The protocol asks participants to commit to surveying a local tributary from mid-march through mid-May. A 15-minute visit can occur daily, weekly or as often as possible. If you are interested in participating in this effort, please contact us or go to