Menhaden, also known as mossbunker, bunker and pogy, are forage fish of the genera Brevoortia and Ethmidium, two genera of marine fish in the family Clupeidae.

Gulf menhaden, Brevoortia patronus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Clupeiformes
Family: Clupeidae
Subfamily: Alosinae
Genus: See text

See text

Profile photo of silvery fish with forked tail with four black dots ranging from just behind the head to under the dorsal fin.
Menhaden B. tyrannus from the Chesapeake Bay



Gulf menhaden and Atlantic menhaden are small oily-fleshed fish, bright silver and characterized by a series of smaller spots behind the main, Humeral spot. They tend to have larger scales than Yellowfin menhaden and Finescale menhaden. Menhaden are flat, have soft flesh, and a deeply forked tail. In addition, Yellowfin menhaden tail rays are a bright yellow in contrast to those of the Atlantic menhaden. Menhaden's maximum length is 15 inches with a varied weight range.


Recent taxonomic work using DNA comparisons have organized the North American menhadens into large-scaled (Gulf and Atlantic menhaden) and small-scaled (Finescale and Yellowfin menhaden) designations.[1]

The menhaden consist of two genera and seven species

  • Genus Brevoortia Gill, 1861
    • Brevoortia aurea (Spix & Agassiz, 1829) (Brazilian menhaden)
    • Brevoortia gunteri Hildebrand, 1948 (Finescale menhaden)
    • Brevoortia patronus Goode, 1878 (Gulf menhaden)
    • Brevoortia pectinata (Jenyns, 1842) (Argentine menhaden)
    • Brevoortia smithi Hildebrand, 1941 (Yellowfin menhaden)
    • Brevoortia tyrannus (Latrobe, 1802) (Atlantic menhaden)
  • Genus Ethmidium W. F. Thompson, 1916
    • Ethmidium maculatum (Valenciennes, 1847) (Pacific menhaden)

Range and habitat

  • The various species of menhaden occur anywhere from estuarine waters outwards to the continental shelf. Menhaden grow in less saline waters of estuaries and can be found in bays, lagoons,as well as river mouths. Adults appear to prefer water temperatures near 18oC.

Life history


Atlantic menhaden can spawn year round in inshore waters off the Atlantic coast, with the highest spawning rates near North Carolina in the late fall. The eggs hatch in the open ocean and the larvae drift to sheltered estuaries via ocean currents. The young spend a year developing in these estuaries before returning to the open ocean. At this early stage, they are commonly known as “peanut bunker”. The Atlantic menhaden usually do not become sexually mature until the end of their second year, after which they reproduce until death. A young, sexually mature female can produce roughly 38,000 eggs, while a fully mature female can produce upwards of 362,000.[2]


Eggs are buoyant and hatch within 2 to 3 days depnding on the temperature. The larvae will spend 1 to 3 months in waters over the continental shelf. The Chesapeake Bay is a popular nursery for juvenile menhaden. Larval fish wil enter the Bay in late winter and early summer. The larval fish will move into lower salinity waters in estuarine tributaries while juvenile and immature fish remain in the Bay until the fall.


Menhaden are omnivorous filter feeders, feeding by straining food particles from water. They travel in large, slow moving, and tightly packed schools with open mouths. Filter feeders typically take into their open mouths "materials in the same proportions as they occur in ambient waters".[3] Menhaden primarily eat phytoplankton (microscopic plants); although, since they are omnivorous, they take in a small portion of zooplankton (microscopic animals). Even though most other related fish (in the family Clupeidae) eat zooplankton, "Menhaden primarily consume phytoplankton, that is, algae and other drifting bits of vegetable matter. The ecological significance of this difference can hardly be overstated."[4]

Relation to humans

Commercial importance

Menhaden were prized in America for their delicate but rich flavors in the mid 18th century. Mark Catesby (1682–1749), an English naturalist, wrote of the menhaden as an "exellent Sweet Fish, and so excessive fat that butter is never used in frying or any other preparation of them....[menhaden were] much esteemed by the Inhabitants for their delicacy."[citation needed] Colonel William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, Virginia, commended menhaden as food fit for a gourmet writing of the menhaden as a "small, but splendid fish when it is baked." Over a century later George Brown Goode (1851–1896) praised the menhaden for its flavor, saying it is "superior in flavor to most of the common shore-fishes," and notes that menhaden sold at a "price nearly as high as that of striped bass, the favorite fish in Washington."[citation needed]

Presently, menhaden are an important input for fishmeal and fish oil, with both of these "reduction" products being used as feed for livestock and aquaculture, such as salmon. Fish oil made from menhaden is also used as a dietary supplement, and as a raw material for products such as lipstick.[5] Atlantic menhaden are an important link between plankton and upper level predators. Because of their filter feeding abilities, "menhaden consume and redistribute a significant amount of energy within and between Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries, and the coastal ocean."[6] Because they play this role, and their abundance, menhaden are an invaluable prey species for many predatory fish, such as striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, flounder, tuna, Drum (fish), and sharks. They are also a very important food source for many birds, including egrets, ospreys, seagulls, northern gannets, pelicans, and herons.

According to James Kirkley of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), there are two established commercial fisheries for menhaden. The first is known as a reduction fishery. According to the Omega Protein Corporation, this fishery's output produces omega-3 oils for human consumption, and for aquaculture, swine, and other livestock feeds.[7] The second is known as a bait fishery, which harvests menhaden for the use of both commercial and recreational fishermen. Commercial fishermen, especially crabbers in the Chesapeake Bay area, use menhaden to bait their traps or hooks. The recreational fisherman use ground menhaden chum as a fish attractant, and whole fish as bait. The total harvest is approximately 500 million animals per year.[5] Atlantic menhaden are harvested using purse seines.

Two companies harvest menhaden in the United States:

  1. Omega Protein Inc., Houston, Texas, with operations in Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama which takes 90% of the national total;[5] and
  2. Daybrook Fisheries, Empire, Louisiana.


According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the overall Atlantic coast stock of menhaden is robust as of 2006.[8] However, according to Paul Greenberg, who has called for a ban on fishing menhaden in US federal waters and the Chesapeake bay, the continued harvesting of menhaden (especially by Omega Proteins) is having detrimental effects on the population, which in turn is affecting populations of fish that feed on menhaden and especially on water quality:[5]

The muddy brown color of the Long Island Sound and the growing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are the direct result of inadequate water filtration — a job that was once carried out by menhaden. An adult menhaden can rid four to six gallons of water of algae in a minute. Imagine then the water-cleaning capacity of the half-billion menhaden we "reduce" into oil every year.

There is increasing concern, especially from recreational fisherman and conservationists, that the Chesapeake Bay’s population is declining significantly. The Chesapeake Bay’s major menhaden fishery is located in the southern (Virginia) portion. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program:

"Chesapeake-specific population estimates for menhaden are not currently produced; estimates are only made for the entire Atlantic coast stock, which appears to be healthy. Still, scientists are concerned about what appears to be a low abundance of menhaden in the Bay, which is one of the fish's key nursery areas.
Fisheries-independent data from seine surveys in Maryland and Virginia through 2004 suggested that menhaden recruitment—the number of juveniles that grow to a “catchable” size—was possibly declining in the Bay. Coast-wide recruitment is considered to be at median historic levels.
The exact causes of the decline in recruitment remain unknown. While additional scientific knowledge is necessary to understand the variability of menhaden recruitment, scientists have cited several possible contributing factors, including:
- Heavy fishing on the adult menhaden stock.
- Possible increases in mortality by predators.
- Changing environmental conditions, such as climate change or poor water quality, in menhaden nursery areas."[9]

Menhaden have been called 'the most important fish in the sea'.[10] H. Bruce Franklin’s most recent book, The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America is an interdisciplinary study of the role of menhaden in American environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural history from the seventeenth into the twenty-first centuries.[4]



Fisheries Commission. Available: smentReport.pdf

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • menhaden — ● menhaden nom masculin Hareng des côtes de Louisiane et de Virginie, objet d une pêche industrielle. ⇒MENHADEN, subst. masc. Hareng des côtes atlantiques de l Amérique du Nord. On trouve également une espèce de hareng appelé menhaden sur les… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • menhaden — ☆ menhaden [men hād′ n ] n. pl. menhaden or menhadens [< AmInd (Algonquian) name: orig. sense prob. “fertilizer”] any of a genus (Brevoortia) of clupeid fishes of the W Atlantic, used for bait or for making oil and fertilizer …   English World dictionary

  • menhaden — men*ha den, n. (Zo[ o]l.) An American marine fish ({Brevoortia tyrannus}) of the Herring family ({Clupeidae}), chiefly valuable for its oil and as a component of fertilizers; called also {mossbunker}, {bony fish}, {chebog}, {pogy}, {hardhead},… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Menhaden — (Bunker, Alosa tyrannus Latr.), ein der Alse nahe verwandter und sehr ähnlicher Fisch, wird an den atlantischen Küsten Nordamerikas jährlich zu Millionen gefangen und zu Tran und Fischguano verarbeitet. Der Wert der jährlichen Ausbeute beträgt ca …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Menhaden — Menhaden, Bunker (Clupĕa tyrannus Latrobe), kleiner Fisch der Heringsgattg., an der atlant. Küste Nordamerikas, als amerik. Sardine im Handel, aber hauptsächlich auf Tran verarbeitet (Preßrückstände liefern Fischguano) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • menhaden — (n.) kind of herring, 1792, from Algonquian (probably Narragansett) munnawhateaug (noted from 1643), lit. they fertilize, because the abundant little fishes were used by the Indians as fertilizer …   Etymology dictionary

  • menhaden — menhàden m DEFINICIJA zool. riba koštunjača iz porodice Clupeidae, prerađuje se u riblje brašno ETIMOLOGIJA engl. ← egz. (algonkijski) …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • menhaden — /men hayd n/, n., pl. menhaden. any marine clupeid fish of the genus Brevoortia, esp. B. tyrannus, resembling a shad but with a more compressed body, common along the eastern coast of the U.S., and used for making oil and fertilizer. [1635 45,… …   Universalium

  • menhaden — noun (plural den; also dens) Etymology: of Algonquian origin; akin to Narragansett munnawhatteaûg menhaden Date: 1765 a marine fish (Brevoortia tyrannus) of the herring family abundant along the Atlantic coast of the United States where it is… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Menhaden — Men|ha|den [mɛn he:dn̩], der; s, s [engl. menhaden, aus dem Algonkin (nordamerik. Indianerspr.)]: heringsähnlicher Speisefisch Nordamerikas …   Universal-Lexikon

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