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Blueback herring

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Title: Blueback herring  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Smoked fish, Buckling (fish), Avruga caviar, Herring soup, Chosa herring
Collection: Alosa, Fish of the Great Lakes, Invasive Fish Species, Smoked Fish
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Blueback herring

Blueback herring
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Family: Clupeidae
Subfamily: Alosinae
Genus: Alosa
Species: A. aestivalis
Binomial name
Alosa aestivalis
(Mitchill, 1814)
Alosa aestivalis

The blueback herring or blueback shad (Alosa aestivalis) is an anadromous species of herring from the east coast of North America, with a range from Nova Scotia to Florida. Blueback herring form schools and are believed to migrate offshore to overwinter near the bottom.

These fish are silvery in color, have a series of scutes (modified, spiny and keeled scales) along their bellies, and are characterized by deep bluish-green backs. They reach a maximum size of approximately 40 centimetres (16 in) and are believed to live up to 8 years. The most distinguishing characteristic of this species is the black to dusky in color of its peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity). It is one of the "typical" North American shads. They are often confused with alewifes because blueback shad and alewives are difficult to distinguish from one another, and together these two species are often regarded collectively as "river herring". Alewives have larger eyes, greater body depth, and pearly to white peritoneal linings.

This fish has, in the past, been used as a baitfish for the lobster fishing industry. It is also used for human consumption, usually smoked. It is caught (during its migration up stream) using large dip nets to scoop the fish out of shallow, constricted areas on its migratory streams and rivers.


  • Range 1
    • Non-indigenous occurrences 1.1
  • Ecology 2
  • Reproduction 3
  • Conservation 4
  • References 5


The native range of this fish is found along the Atlantic Coast from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to the St. Johns River, Florida. During spawning season, it migrates into coastal rivers.

Non-indigenous occurrences

Blueback shad were first collected in Oneida Lake, the Oswego River, and Lake Champlain in New York. In North Carolina, blueback shad were introduced into the Savannah, Broad, and Yadkin River basins, and into non-native areas of the Cape Fear and Roanoke River basins. It has been introduced to an unspecified location in the Chesapeake Bay basin in Pennsylvania. They have been collected in Lake Jocassee, Lake Keowee, Picalet River, Broad River, and Lake Murray in South Carolina. Stock obtained from the Cooper River, South Carolina, was released in Texas by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Lake Theo, Briscoe County, and at an unidentified research site in north Texas in 1982 (and in the upper Red River drainage). Bluebacks have been collected from Lake Champlain, Vermont, and have been stocked in several inland reservoirs in Virginia, including Smith Mountain Lake, Occoquan Reservoir, Kerr Reservoir, and Lakes Anna, Brittle, and Chesdin. It is established as a species in Texas, New York, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.


This fish is anadromous, living in marine systems and spawning in deep, swift freshwater rivers with hard substrates. It migrates to spawning grounds in the spring. In Connecticut, blueback shad spawn in 14 to 17 °C (57 to 63 °F) water, usually later in the spring than the alewife. During spawning, many eggs are deposited over the stream bottom, where they stick to gravel, stones, logs, or other objects. Juveniles spend three to seven months in fresh water, then migrate to the ocean. The blueback shad is a planktivorous forage species.


Blueback herring spawn from late March through mid-May, depending on latitude. Females usually mature by age five and produce between 60,000 and 103,000 eggs. Males generally mature earlier at between 3 and 4 years of age and at a smaller size than the females. For both species, adults migrate quickly downstream after spawning and little is known about their life history while in the marine environment; however, they are believed to be capable of migrating long distances (over 1,900 kilometres (1,200 mi)).


Blueback populations have exhibited drastic declines throughout much of their range. There are several threats that have most likely contributed to their decline. These threats include: loss of habitat due to decreased access to spawning areas from the construction of dams and other impediments to migration; habitat degradation; fishing; and increased predation due to recovering striped bass populations.

In response to the declining trend for river herring, the states of Alabama, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia and North Carolina have instituted moratoriums on taking and possession.

The blueback herring is a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. Species of Concern are those species about which the U.S. Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, has some concerns regarding status and threats, but for which insufficient information is available to indicate a need to list the species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).


  • Faria, R.; Weiss, S. & Alexandrino, P. (2006): A molecular phylogenetic perspective on the evolutionary history of Alosa spp. (Clupeidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40(1): 298–304. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.02.008 (HTML abstract)
  • Good, S. - Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pittsford, VT.
  • Guest, W. C. 1983. Blueback herring evaluation. Federal Aid Project F-31-R-9.
  • Hauser, M. 1998. Champlain Canal fish barrierTh study. Aquatic Nuisance Species Digest 2(3):26–27.
  • Howells, R. G. 1992a. Annotated liThst of introduced non-native fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants in Texas waters. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Management Data Series 78, Austin, TX. 19 pp.
  • Hurst, T. P., K. A. McKown, and D. O. Conover. 2004. Interannual and long-term variation in the nearshore fish community of the mesohaline Hudson River Estuary. Estuaries, 27(4):659-669.
  • Jenkins, R. E., and N. M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.
  • MacNeill, D. - New York Sea Grant, State University of New York at Brockport, Brockport, NY.
  • Menhinick, E. F. 1991. The freshwater fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. 227 pp.
  • Owens, R. - U.S. Geological Survey, Oswego, NY.
  • Owens, R. W., R. O'gorman, E. L. Mills, L. G. Rudstam, J. J. Hasse, B. H. Kulik, and D. R. MacNeill. 1998. Blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) in Lake Ontario: First record, entry route, and colonization potential. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 24(3):723-730.
  • Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
  • Rasmussen, J.L. 1998. Aquatic nuisance species of the Mississippi River basin. 60th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Aquatic Nuisance Symposium, Cincinnati, OH. 7 December 1998.
  • Rohde, F.C., R.G. Arndt, J.W. Foltz, and J.M. Quattro. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC, 430 pp.
  • Winkelman, D. L. and M. J. Van Der Avyle. 2002. A comparison of diets of blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) and threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) in a large southeastern reservoir. Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 17(2): 209-221.
  • Yako, L. A., M. E. Mather, and F. Juanes. 2002. Mechanisms for migration of anadromous herring: An ecological basis for effective conservation. Ecological Applications, 12(2): 521-534.
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