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Atlantic Menhaden

Brevoortia tyrannus

Menhaden have a dark, round shoulder spot followed by smaller spots arranged in somewhat horizontal rows. (Brian Gratwicke/Wikimedia Commons)
Menhaden have a dark, round shoulder spot followed by smaller spots arranged in somewhat horizontal rows. (Brian Gratwicke/Wikimedia Commons)

Atlantic menhaden is a silvery-blue herring with dark spots on the sides. Large schools of menhaden visit the Chesapeake Bay from spring through autumn.

Appearance:

  • Blue, bluish-green or bluish-brown body
  • Sides, fins and belly are silvery, often with a yellowish sheen
  • Dark, round shoulder spot followed by smaller spots arranged in somewhat horizontal rows
  • Projecting lower jaw
  • Deeply forked tail fin
  • Grows 14-18 inches long

Habitat:

  • Lives throughout the Chesapeake Bay
  • Forms large schools that swim just below the water’s surface

Range:

  • Visits the Bay from spring through autumn
  • Leaves the Bay for deeper, warmer ocean waters in winter
  • Juveniles sometimes overwinter in the Bay

Feeding:

  • Filter-feeder
  • Feeds by swimming rapidly to capture water in its open mouth, then filtering out plankton in the water

Predators:

  • One of the most important food sources for larger predators, including bluefish, weakfish, striped bass, sharks, mackerels, and fish-eating seabirds and mammals

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns over the mid-Atlantic continental shelf in spring and autumn
  • Eggs hatch at sea. Larvae spend about two months there before drifting into the Bay and other estuaries
  • Larvae eventually move into brackish waters, where they grow rapidly throughout the summer
  • Can live 10-12 years

Other Facts:

  • The Bay is an important nursery area for juvenile menhaden because of its rich supply of plankton
  • Menhaden are so oily that they are nearly inedible for humans
  • Native Americans likely used menhaden to fertilize their corn fields. They called the fish “munnawhatteaug,” a word for fertilizer.
  • A large crustacean parasite is often found in menhaden mouths. This is why the fish are also called bugfish or bugmouth.
  • Although some people use it as bait, most menhaden caught in the Bay are processed for fish oil and livestock feed

Sources and Additional Information:




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