Atlantic menhaden – a member of the herring family -- are essential to the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem: Of all the fish that swim in the Bay, none rival menhaden as consumers of algae, and this important link in the food chain is also a critical forage food for striped bass, bluefish and other Bay species.
Oily, silvery fish that move in large, dense schools with wide-open mouths, menhaden pass huge amounts of water over their gills, which are adapted to collect plankton. (This schooling behavior also makes them a favorite food for herons, egrets, ospreys and eagles.)
Although adults spawn in the ocean over the continental shelf, the larval fish are swept into the Bay by coastal currents in early spring and then occupy low-salinity waters and tributaries from Virginia to areas above Baltimore. For newly hatched menhaden, the Chesapeake Bay becomes one big nursery. Juveniles primarily feed on zooplankton. Adults are suspension-feeders that selectively graze on zooplankton, larger phytoplankton and diatoms.
Menhaden are currently harvested commercially as a source of protein meal and fish oil along the Atlantic coast. Maryland legislators, fishery managers and anglers are working together ensure menhaden are not overharvested and that a strong, healthy population continues to benefit our Bay’s water quality and aquatic life.
Current management measures on Atlantic menhaden can be found at www.ASMFC.org.
Federal legislation to ban the harvest of menhaden (recently introduced by Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) can be viewed at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-3841
Illustration of Atlantic menhaden
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