Picture a school of small, silver-colored fish, moving swiftly and smoothly through the water acting as one, single organism. Together, they equal the size and weight of a blue whale. Such is the conduct of†the most important fish in the sea: the Menhaden.
Menhaden are the most underrated, yet most essential fish of the Atlantic and Gulf waters. But a history of overfishing and human interference will soon leave them as a distant memory. Safe fishing targets for Menhaden have been exceeded every single year but one since 1955. In fact, overfishing of Menhaden dates all the way back to 1879. Millions of tons of Menhaden were used as fertilizers, oil and animal feed until all of them, on the coasts of New York, Connecticut and Maine, were completely gone.
Itís quite easy to overlook Menhadenís importance.††With their foot-long frame and lowest ranking on the food chain, they appear to be of little significance. However, they serve a plethora of purposes that have kept their title as Americaís most important fish. Apart from being prey for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, porpoises and seabirds, Menhaden serve as natural filters of the water. They are the primary herbivores of the sea and filter up to four gallons of water a minute. They clear the water of phytoplankton and excess algae, allowing sunlight to touch the deep depths of the ocean, and giving aquatic plants a chance to blossom. The plants, in turn, help oxygen flow through water, breathing life into the fish and shellfish who call the sea their home. Menhaden are the glue that hold the livelihood of the sea together, but the bond they hold is steadily weakening.
Sadly, the population of Menhaden is less than 10 percent of its original historic level. If something isnít done soon to preserve them, the sea will be in a state of crisis and we will have lost an invaluable treasure, this time†for good.
Many communities near the Atlantic and the Gulf have been rallying together with hopes of saving Menhaden fish. Unfortunately, they may be no match for major corporations who use the fish for poultry feed and fishmeal for salmon, despite there being cheaper and less detrimental alternatives available. If we continue to fish Menhaden at the current rate, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that they will be depleted within the next decade.
Hope may come in the form of new population targets and fishing limits. These new limits will soon be set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The ASMFC is giving the public a chance to voice their opinions about the hearings being conducted, discussing the preservation of Menhaden fish. Local communities of recreational fishermen, concerned citizens, and the like plan to attend these hearings and present thought-out propositions in order to help solve the overfishing problem.††Their thought-provoking words will, hopefully, have a positive impact on fight to the preserve the Menhaden.
The fate of the sea and all of its glory, fortunately†or unfortunately, lies in our hands.††You can help their cause by signing this petition.