Freshwater Fish - Species

Blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) - Native

Description: (Anatomy of a Fish)

The blueback herring has a bluish color on the upper side of its body with silver on the rest.  There is usually one small dark spot located on the upper side of the body just beyond the operculum or gill flap. 

Range:  Coastal rivers and streams in the Pee Dee, Santee and Savannah river drainages and present in several reservoirs—lakes Murray, Thurmond, Hartwell, Russell, Jocassee, Marion and Moultrie

Average Length:  10 inches

Average Size:  1/3 pound

Life Expectancy:  Approximately 8 years

Preferred Habitat

Atlantic Ocean, but migrates up freshwater rivers to spawn in the Coastal Plain. 

Food Habits

  • Zooplankton, fish eggs and fish larvae

Spawning

  • Blueback herring move into coastal rivers during March and April when the water temperatures reach the mid-50s.  The spawning site can be from the tidal zone to more than 100 miles upstream. 
  • Females release as many as 250,000 eggs in shoreline areas where they are fertilized by the male.  Upon spawning, the adults return to offshore areas to overwinter. 
  • The newly hatched fish remain in the lower riverine area for several months before moving to sea.

Miscellaneous

The blueback herring is a diadromous fish, meaning it migrates between fresh and saltwater.  While one of many that do so, it is of considerable importance to the commercial and sport fishermen of South Carolina.  The Santee and Cooper rivers provide an excellent illustration of the blueback herring’s importance.  As the upstream spawning migration begins, large numbers of schooling blueback herring will congregate near Wilson Dam and Pinopolis Fish Lock and Dam where they are vulnerable to commercial harvest.  They are harvested for fish bait and sold to distributors throughout the state.  The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for years has recognized the value of blueback herring as food for certain game fish of lakes Marion and Moultrie.  Prior to the Santee-Cooper rediversion project, blueback herring were "locked"through the navigational lock at Pinopolis.  This allowed the species to enter the reservoir, thereby providing food to striped bass and largemouth bass and increasing its spawning range.  Since the rediversion project was completed, an additional but different method of moving fish is provided by a fishlift in the Santee River at St. Stephen.  Fish moving through the fishlift can be viewed each spring during March and April. 

Blueback herring have been stocked in several upstate reservoirs and although landlocked are successfully reproducing.  Although the blueback herring is generally only about ten inches in length and contains numerous bones, it is occasionally smoked and eaten by residents of some coastal towns. The true value of the species will continue to be as a major food item of game fish. 

Commonly Mistaken Species

Some species of fish that are commonly mistaken for this species:

Literature Cited

Rohde, Fred C, Arndt, Rudolf G., Foltz, Jeffery W., Quattro, Joseph M. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. 2009. South Carolina Guide to Freshwater Fishes.

Fish Illustration by Duane Raver.