They’re small. They stink. They’re unremarkable looking. You wouldn’t ever intentionally eat one, although you’ve undoubtedly consumed one or used a product that contains menhaden. So while you may never have heard of it, this small baitfish from the herring family is possibly the most important fish that swims in the ocean.
1. Commercial fishermen harvested 1.15 billion pounds of menhaden on the Gulf and Atlantic in 2014.
2. Mature menhaden average 15 inches long.
3. Adult menhaden filter seven gallons of water every minute.
4. They make a choice bait for bass. Stripers can’t resist the oily scent of menhaden. Use a fish finder rig and a fresh head. Change your bait after 20 minutes in the water. Repeat.
5. There are some 30 nicknames for menhaden, including bunker, mossbunker, pogy, bug-head, and fat back.
6. Native Americans called them munnawhatteug—which means “that which fertilizes”—and used menhaden to enrich the soil.
7. Menhaden are the number one species, by volume, harvested along the Atlantic coast (and number two on the Pacific).
8. Menhaden are critical to the marine ecosystem because of their role in the food chain. They eat by filtering phytoplankton and zooplankton from the water they live in, and in turn are eaten by predatory gamefish like stripers, swordfish, and tuna.
9. Menhaden oil is used in everyday products like lipstick, cookies, salad dressing, margarine, and fish oil supplements.
10. An adult female can produce 300,000 eggs in a year.
Photograph by Joe Cermele