We documented the age and growth of alewives Alosa pseudoharenqus in Lake Ontario during 1978-1992 and determined if growth was affected by intraspecific competition for epilimnetic zooplankton, lake temperature, or demand of salmonine piscivores for prey. Ages of juvenile alewives were determined from scales during 1978-1983, and ages of juvenile and adult alewives were determined from otoliths during 1984-1992. Indices of abundance for alewives were calculated from spring bottom trawl catches in 1978-1992; zooplankton density and epilimnetic temperature were monitored at two stations during 1981-1991; and salmonine demand each year during 1978-1992 was calculated with a simulation model. Although we encountered 11-year-old alewives, few fish lived longer than 7 years, and most fish in the population were younger than 6 years. Mean sizes at ages 1, 2, and 3 in spring averaged 93 mm (5.1 g), 133 mm (17 g), and 149 mm (22 g), but from age 3 to age 8, mean size increased by only 5-7 mm and 2-3 g per year. Female alewives lived longer than male alewives and were always longer than male alewives at age 4 and older. Epilimnetic temperatures were suitable for rapid growth of juvenile alewives each year. Lake temperature had the potential to affect growth of adults but adult growth was not correlated with temperature suitability indices perhaps because temperature regimes differed among lake regions and alewives were mobile. Growth of alewives was not correlated with salmonine demand for prey. Competition for zooplankton among the two youngest alewife cohorts affected growth of age-1 alewives. Zooplankton density declined sharply in 1986, and should it decline again, growth of age-1 alewives will slow, unless numbers of age-0 alewives fall. Whether growth of age-1 fish declines or numbers of age-0 fish fall, the result of another decline in zooplankton density will be a reduction in the production of alewives needed to support piscivores.
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Age and growth of alewives in the changing pelagia of Lake Ontario, 1978-1992