Industrial Menhaden Fishing- No way for the bay

Tons of Menhdaden Removed from Bay
Jobs Lost
Percent of Menhaden left from historical levels
image of a man holding a menhaden against a white background

Menhaden- The Most Important Fish in the Sea

Menhaden are the most important fish in American waters.  The reason is simple. The fish is an important and vital food source for scores of marine creatures.  For these marine animals, menhaden provides key nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids that they need to survive.

The fish is mostly unknown. You will never see it on a menu nor is it sold in stores. But it is without doubt a crucial fish.

Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins eat them and fish such as striped bass and blue fish and many other species. In addition, marine birds such as osprey and eagles also need menhaden for their sustenance. 

In short, they are a keystone species.  Such species means that they are invaluable to the health and sustainability of the entire marine food chain. They keep the whole marine ecosystem going and when a keystone species is removed, the system is literally destroyed.

Menhaden Are Crucial

the Reliance of the Marine Ecosystem

Why Menhaden Need Protection in Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay is the largest and most spectacular tidal estuary in the United States. Here the waters of the Atlantic Ocean meet and mingle with the outflow of 150 rivers, creeks and streams, concocting a fabulously rich stew of marine life. Before European colonization, gray whales, dolphins, alligators, sea turtles and manatees all flourished in the Bay. Hundreds of species of fish still inhabit, or range in the Chesapeake, once the world’s capital of striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and many others. The Bay once produced more seafood per acre than any body of water on Earth. The foundation of this system is based on the abundance of menhaden. But industrial menhaden fishing has resulted in localized depletion of fish in the Bay. The result is a negative impact on marine life. Here are examples of two important species affected by overfishing of menhaden in the Bay.

Striped Bass. Harvests of the great fish have plummeted as seen in the chart. In addition, the fish is sick. Many scientists now believe they’re malnourished and that’s because they’re not getting enough menhaden to eat. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated in 2005 that 76% of the rockfish in the Bay are infected with wasting disease caused by mycobacteria.

Osprey.  Many chicks are dying because they are not getting enough food.  Research indicates that the current reproductive rate of Osprey in the Lower Chesapeake Bay is insufficient to sustain this species in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay.  The metric, chicks per active nest, needs to be 1.15.  It is currently at 0.1.  S


graph of the virginia recreational striped bass harvest by year

Whales rely on menhaden

"The Biggest Little Fish You've Never Seen" Film

Safeguard the Seas has produced a film, The Biggest Little Fish You’ve Never Seen,  to show the damage caused by the menhaden industrial fishing. This film is available to be shown to groups that are interested in learning more about this issue and what can be done.

STS supports the Menhaden Bait Industry. Many fishing groups rely on menhaden for bait. For example, lobstermen bait their traps with menhaden to catch lobsters. This bait industry does not remove a significant amount of menhaden.  In addition, it helps to provide jobs. The Menhaden Bait Fishing should continue.

Safeguard The Seas will make the film available to any group(s) for free that are interested in learning about menhaden and the need for their protection in the Chesapeake Bay.

Please contact us and tell us about your group. Click below.  We can then schedule a private screening of the film.

Forage fish

Here is the comment of Dr. Ellen Pikitch, a respected marine biologist about the importance of forage fish. The bottom line is that forage fish are more valuable left in the ocean than taken out and sold for such products as fertilizer, pet food or feed for farmed salmon.

Why does society permit such incredibly valuable resources as menhaden and atlantic herring for use in products where a substitute is available? 

Their Key Importance

Forage fish play a crucial role in marine ecosystems. These fish are the primary food source for many marine mammals, seabirds, and larger fish, transferring energy from plankton to larger predators. Such highly dependent predators may be threatened or endangered species. Forage fish are also important predators in marine ecosystems feeding upon phytoplankton and zooplankton.

In their role as prey, forage fish provide the underpinnings for many species of wildlife in our oceans. They support the whales we delight in seeing, the seabird colonies we enjoy viewing, and the wild fish that provide recreational opportunities and food.

The challenge for policymakers is to determine a level of catch that is appropriate. Historically, that approach has been to promote maximum sustained yields of fish. However, this approach fails to take into account the important ecological role that forage fish play in the larger marine environment. Progress on this modern approach has been started but its enactment has been tediously slow.


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