“The Alewives are Coming! The Alewives are Coming!” (7-7-1967)

It’s summer.  We’re all enjoying the great outdoors, and some of us are going to the beach.  Back in the 1960s, when people around Chicago went to the beach, they had to deal with alewives.

An alewife is a kind of herring.  It’s about 7 inches long and weighs a few ounces.  You mostly find them off New England.  In the Boston suburbs, one of the major streets is even called Alewife Parkway.


Well, during the 1930s, these alewives got into Lake Michigan.  They weren’t much of a problem because the bigger fish–like the trout–would eat them.  But the sea lamprey came along and ate the trout.  Sea lampreys didn’t eat alewives, so suddenly, the lake had all these alewives and no predators.

Pretty soon there are alewives filling the lake.  That’s what today’s story is about—July 7, 1967.  There are so many alewives around Chicago that it’s become national news.  Even Time magazine is talking about it.

Each year, we’d have the annual Alewife Die-Off.  All these alewives would die in Lake Michigan, and their bodies would drift in.  They’d fill the water near the shore or wash up onto the beach.


Of course, those alewives would be decaying, and you can imagine the smell—well, you probably don’t want to.  The flies would come in, and the beaches would be a mess.  The city would have to use tractors and bulldozers to clear off the beaches.

Nobody knew how many dead alewives there were.  Experts said hundreds of millions, maybe a billion.  A guy in a plane over the lake saw a ribbon of drifting dead alewives 40 miles long.

Eventually the government started putting salmon into the lake.  The number of alewives went down, and now we can use the beaches in summer.

But lately we’ve been hearing about the Asian carp.  If that thing gets into the lake, they say it will force out the salmon.  With the salmon gone, what will happen next?

In the meantime, I’m working on a screenplay for a disaster movie.  I’m calling it “Return of the Alewives.”


4 Responses to ““The Alewives are Coming! The Alewives are Coming!” (7-7-1967)”

  1. 1 Trisha July 7, 2016 at 10:44 am

    LOL!! That smell is burned into my memory!!!!

  2. 2 Melvin July 10, 2016 at 9:44 am

    So gross. I remember them well from the late 80s and early 90s.

  3. 3 Dan Haas November 5, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    Hi – I’m creating a presentation on unintended consequences, and I’m looking for high-quality photos of that massive alewife die-off in 1967. Any ideas?

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