Atlantic menhaden play an essential role in marine ecosystems and businesses along the U.S. East Coast. In August 2020, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets fishing rules for menhaden along the Eastern Seaboard, adopted one of the country’s most advanced ecosystem-based approaches to managing forage fish to protect their ecological and economic value.
Menhaden serve as a critical food source for whales, dolphins, ospreys, eagles, and other wildlife, and for commercially and recreationally valuable species such as tuna, cod, striped bass, king mackerel, and tarpon. They are also the focus of a large commercial fishery; by weight, more menhaden are caught along the U.S. Atlantic coast than any other fish species. The catch is used in feed for pets, livestock, and farmed fish; in oil for nutritional supplements and cosmetics; and as bait for other fisheries. But coastal communities and economies also have an interest in sustaining healthy menhaden populations in the water because they support valuable recreation, tourism, and seafood businesses.
As hundreds of thousands of comments submitted during the years-long rulemaking process demonstrate, scientists, anglers, conservation organizations, and the public strongly back ecosystem-based fisheries management for menhaden. This modern approach supports fishery managers in setting catch limits that leave enough menhaden in the water to feed wildlife, support coastal businesses, and enable this vital species to increase in numbers and return to its full historic range from Maine to Florida.