I remember pulling alewives out of the river in Hampden.

Back in the day, there used to be a bit of a dam at the basin of Waterworks Hill in Hampden. As kids, we'd always look forward to the annual alewife run. Some kids had a hookup and would catch them in nets for a local guy who'd pay them decent money. He yelled at us once to get out of the way, and also warned us of the size snapping turtles that were in the river.

Photo by Katie Bernotsky on Unsplash
Photo by Katie Bernotsky on Unsplash

We'd always just grab them with our bare hands, and then throw them back. We weren't ambitious enough to take them home and do anything with them. Mom always said they were bony and gross anyway. I learned better later on.

What is an alewife?

Most Mainers are quite familiar, but alewives are a basically a river herring. They often spend most of their lives in the Atlantic and come up river to spawn, some never leave the fresh water at all. They even look a bit like chubs. So there are probably plenty of people who catch an alewife and throw it back because chubs are straight trash.

herring fish isolated on white background
Getty Images/iStockphoto/ iridica

Back in the day, alewives were mostly lobster bait. But as happens in the food industry quite often, the "peasant" foods become quite popular. As is the case with these little swimmers. You can easily catch them yourself when they're running, but occasionally fish markets will also carry them.

What do they taste like?

Well, they're basically a white fish, but quite oily. So imagine something along the lines of haddock or cod, but with a bit fattier quality to them. Yes, they can be super bony, but they often melt away during the cooking process, depending on what you do with them. You can certainly treat them like the herrings they are. You can smoke them, pickle them... pretty much whatever you want.

Salted Herring Fillet Isolated, Raw Pickled Fish Meat, Marinated Herring on White Background
Getty Images/Oksana Ermak

If you have some kitchen skills, the sky is the limit. You could use them as you would any seafood centerpiece. They're just often overlooked because they used to be a baitfish. Or their bony reputation can turn people off too. But seriously, if you're looking for something different, alewife just might be the way to go at dinner time.

Just remember to watch for snappers, guy!

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