This is not the first time that a great number of small alewives are floating up dead or washing on the shorelines of Lake Champlain in northwest Vermont. This will not be the last as well.
These seasonal die-offs of alewives on the shores usually happen after the melting of ice at Lake Champlain.
"I think it's kind of disgusting," commented Vanessa Fleming, a regular visitor from Milton, Vermont who likes to spend time on Lake Champlain. "It makes you feel discouraged coming down here and seeing dead fish everywhere."
Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, noted that neither the water nor any form of pollutant is the culprint. The biology of the alewife itself is the cause of its death.
Good explained that alewives are not native to Lake Champlain. One theory as to how the fish colonized the lake is through human intervention. Someone must have utilized alewives as bait years ago, and now the population has become uncontrollably abundant.
Alewives may be ill-equipped to handle the instabilities in Lake Champlain's temperatures, particularly in the colder months, Good said. When this invasive species die, it creates "a void in the fish community in terms of other fish having something to eat."
Good sees the die-offs of alewives from previous years as a "warning sign" and an obvious reminder that the public should never illegally transport fresh fish from its natural environment into a different body of water just to create fishing opportunities. Additionally, the human-aided migration of living fish can have major impacts on natural ecosystems.
The trout and salmon in Lake Champlain have become dependent on these small invaders as an important source of diet. Recreational fishing can be deeply affected if the salmon and trout cannot hunt the alewives for food any longer because of the die-offs.
"We haven't seen that here," Good told New England Cable News. "It's just something we have witnessed in the Great Lakes, and we hope it doesn't happen here."
On Tuesday, fish and wildlife officials were in Milton supplying Lake Champlain with fresh salmon, as part of an ongoing scheme to restore the fish populace in the freshwater lake.
Photo: Ken Lund | Flickr