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( Brevoortia tyrannus )

"mossbunker Alewife, Bunker, Pogy, Bugmouth, Fat-Back "


Description: Small (up to 15 inches long), blue-black fish with metallic flanks and deeply forked tail

Similar Fish: Alewive and Blueback Herring

Where Found:Coastal and estuarine waters from Nova Scotia to northern Florida. Menhaden are common in all salinities of the Chesapeake Bay , swimming in large schools close to the water's surface during the spring, summer and fall. Throughout the spring, the schools stratify by size and age along the coast, so that by summer, younger and smaller fish are found in the Chesapeake Bay and areas south of it, while the older, larger fish are distributed along the coast to the north. During the fall and early winter, most menhaden migrate south to the North Carolina, where they remain until March and early April.

Size: Menhaden reach a maximum length of 15 inches

Tactics to catch: A majority of catches come from estuaries and near shore coastal waters and are caught with a variety of gear, including the common purse seines and pound nets. The menhaden purse-seine fishery has been found to be an extremely clean fishery, taking less than 1% incidental catch of other species.

Climate:water temperature range): temperate coastal Atlantic waters

Spawning habits:Menhaden are not anadromous fishes; they spawn in the ocean. Menhaden enter the Bay to feed on the estuary's rich supply of plankton. Menhaden reach sexual maturity just before the age of three, and they spawn from March to May, and again in September and October. Larvae of 0.4 to 1.3 inches appear in the Chesapeake Bay in large numbers during May and June, with a smaller amount found in November. The larvae use the brackish and fresh waters as nursery areas, where they become juveniles and grow rapidly. By the fall, the young menhaden have quadrupled in size, to between 1.6 and 7.3 inches. The young-of-the-year leave the estuary in late fall and join the schools in southward migration.Table Food? Menhaden are an oily fishy tasting therefore undesirable for consumption.

Feeding habits: Menhaden feed on both phytoplankton and zooplankton

Life Span: Menhaden are short-lived, swimming along the United States coastal waters for up to five years.

Remarks: It is one of the favorite foods of striped bass, bluefish, sea trout, tuna and sharks. Native Americans in pre-colonial America called the fish ‘munnawhatteaug', which means, ‘fertilizer', and menhaden are probably the fish that the indigenous tribes urged the Pilgrims to plant along with their corn. Although in the colonial period some considered the fish a delicacy, most agree today that the oily and bony menhaden is better left for non-culinary uses. In their well-nourished condition, these filter feeders serve as prey for other fish and sea birds.

The menhaden fishery is one of the most important and productive on the Atlantic coast, providing fish meal, fish oil, fish solubles and bait for other fisheries. More pounds of menhaden are landed each year than any other fish in the United States , with coast wide landings ranging from 300,000 to 400,000 metric tons since the mid-1970s.

There is a major concern, however, about area-specific over fishing, especially in the Chesapeake Bay . Menhaden play a key ecological role in the Bay as an important prey species for top predators such as striped bass, and for their ability to filter the water. Over the past several years the number of juvenile menhaden recruiting to the population has been low and may affect stock size. A proposal to cap the harvest in Chesapeake Bay is under discussion. It is illegal for scout planes to find the schools of menhaden. In time if the menhaden are over fished the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay will drastically suffer.


Chesapeake Bay Program

State of Maryland DNR



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