Like other small but critically important forage fish, menhaden play a central role in the marine food web. These tiny, oily baitfish are an essential food source for larger fish species, including some of the most economically-important sportfish: striped bass, bluefin tuna, bluefish, redfish, speckled trout, weakfish, tarpon, summer flounder, and sharks. Whales, dolphins, seabirds, and other marine species also consume menhaden in large quantities. Menhaden also regulate water quality by filtering harmful nutrients as they feed.
But menhaden are not currently managed with consideration for their vital role in coastal ecosystems.
In fact, commercial harvest of menhaden has increased to meet the demand of what’s called a “reduction fishery,” which reduces billions of menhaden into livestock feed, fish oil, fish meal, fertilizers, cosmetics, and other products. More menhaden are commercially harvested each year than any other fish in the lower 48 states—more than a million are caught per trip and more than a billion metric tons are caught per year, putting predators at risk and undermining the health of the marine ecosystem.