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Great Lakes Article:

Alewives die-off smaller than in past
The Associated Press
07/03/03


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Tiny, silver -- and dead -- alewives have reappeared on west Michigan beaches, though officials say in much smaller numbers than in past years.

Thousands of the fish wash up on beaches every few years in a natural die-off, posing a foul-smelling and unsightly situation for beach-goers.

But this year's wash-ups appear to be hit-or-miss and have not kept people away from the Lake Michigan shore in Allegan and Ottawa counties, unlike intrusions in 1999 and 1996.

"It's spotty along the beach," Dave Vanderwel, director at Camp Geneva, told The Grand Rapids Press for a Wednesday story. He said the alewives have not been much of an inconvenience for employees or guests at the camp north of Holland.

"We have our waterfront staff rake them up and bury them," he said.

Environmental and fish experts said this year's alewife appearance was not unexpected. The June spawning season and rising lake temperatures can be too stressful on the fragile fish.

"The alewives have a tough time with harsh winters," said Chuck Pistis, director of the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service in Grand Haven.

Alewives are believed to have migrated into Lake Ontario through the St. Lawrence Seaway years ago, then spread throughout the Great Lakes.

Pistis said this year's die-off may be less than in other years for several reasons, including the level of stress on the fish, general nutrition available in the lakes and their overall population.

"Compared to the 1960s, the population now is a shadow of its former self," he said.

That did not make the group of dead fish at Laketown Township Beach south in Allegan County near Holland any more pleasant for 24-year-old Sonia Thompson of North Carolina, who relaxed on the beach Tuesday afternoon.

"I never like it," said Thompson, a Holland native, as she watched her 5-year-old niece play in the sand. "I stay away from them, but I always expect some when I visit the beach."

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