Menhaden (aka Bunker, Pogy) are, without a doubt, the single most important fish in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These oily little filter feeders swim in schools so large that they can be seen by aircraft. The primary job of this species is to convert plankton and algae into a package that predators can easily eat. And the predators are numerous, including birds, striped bass, tuna, sharks, seals, dolphins and whales. This is where the phrase "The most important fish in the sea" originates. Without abundant menhaden along our coastlines, the ocean wildlife will suffer.
That’s why these fish are often called the “most important fish in the sea.
Most Americans have never heard of a menhaden, when in fact the even though it is menhaden reduction fishery is the second largest commercial fishery in the continental United States. A single company uses spotter planes and chase boats to catches billions of these fish per year. The menhaden are then “reduced” which they grind up into fish meal and fish oil for sale on a global commodities market for about eight cents a pound. Omega protein Inc/Cooke USA Inc, spends a fortune annually on political lobbying influence, attorney fees and advertising to bolster harvests and increase profits. For the past 30 + years, the company has aggressively attacked any new conservation rule, including a recent limit on how many fish can be caught in the Chesapeake Bay.
That’s why Menhaden Defenders needs your help to put an end to this antiquated industry and implement conservative management techniques to make sure that these fish are able to repopulate historic ranges to become plentiful and abundant once again.
In addition to whales, all of these species directly depend
upon abundant bunker for survival
Reduction fishing is the process of catching huge quantities of fish and grinding them up for fish meal and oil. In 2018, an international fishing company based in Canada, Cooke Inc, acquired Omega Protein Inc. for $500 million. Cooke will now reduce America’s keystone forage species, menhaden, into fish food pellets to feed Cooke’s open pen salmon and other food fish species around the world.
After the purse seine net is tightened up around a school of thousands of bunker, the giant seawater powered vacuum hose is lowered down into the net and the fish are sucked out. This process can often lead to by catch of non-target species, including red fish, sharks, and in some cases dolphin.
Menhaden are reduced to fish oil by the industrial processing facility—and It'snot just for human “health”fish oil supplements capsules! Fish oil is incorporated into pet foods, poultry and swine feed, and many everyday consumer products.
The need for cheap protein around the world is increasing rapidly as the world's population soars. Fish feed for aquaculture is in especially high demand, and unfortunately, the high volume, low margin menhaden fishery has proven to be a profitable business—to the detriment of the marine ecosystem.
Flaxseed, algae, insects and other protein sources are a much more sustainable source of protein and they can be substituted for many of the current menhaden uses.
Menhaden stocks have fluctuated substantially over the years and the geographic range of the fishery has shrunk dramatically, a clear sign of depletion. One reason for the decline is the massive commercial fishery that has been active for centuries. The commercial menhaden fishery is made up of two sectors, a reduction fishery, which grinds billions of bunker up for fish meal and oil, and the bait fishery which supplies menhaden for lobster and crab traps. Reduction fishing is an antiquated practice that has been banned in every east coast state, except Virginia. The public would like to see the fishery curtailed further. In fact, given the various ecological challenges we face in the 21st Century, many more forage fish like menhaden should be left in the water for predators.
Menhaden Defenders is non-profit, non-partisan 501C-3 organization fighting to restore menhaden populations in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to levels that allow the species to play its historical ecological role as forage for predators.
To do this, Menhaden Defenders would like to see an end to reduction fishing.
Menhaden have been called “the most important fish in the sea” because of the critical role they play in the marine ecosystem as prey for other fish and wildlife. Menhaden provide a vital and unique link between primary production and higher organisms. Adult and juvenile menhaden feed by straining plankton—tiny floating plants and animals—from the water. Menhaden then convert plankton into a usable form of energy for animals higher in the food web. Based on diet studies, many highly prized fish species—such as striped bass, bluefish and weakfish—as well as marine mammals, sea turtles, ospreys and loons depend on menhaden as a food source.
Because each species occupies a crucial niche in the ecosystem, excessive removal of prey species, such as menhaden, disrupts the ecosystem’s natural balance and sustainability.
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