Atlantic menhaden is a member of the herring family that ranges
in great schools from Nova Scotia to Florida. They spawn in nearshore
waters throughout the year and are the target of a large industrial
fleet that moves with them. Menhaden feed on zooplankton as juveniles
and are primarily herbivores as adults, eating phytoplankton and
drifting plant matter, and grow to a maximum length of 15 inches.
They are a vital element of the ocean ecosystem throughout their
range as prey for striped bass, bluefish, mackerel, tuna, sharks
and other fish, as well as herons, eagles, osprey, and egrets. The
fishery for menhaden is the second most valuable in terms of quantity
(behind walleye pollock), virtually all of which is processed into
oil or meal for animal feed. United States menhaden landings totaled
1.8 billion pounds in 2002, with a value of $105.1 million. Atlantic
menhaden are also known as bugmouths because many carry a crustacean
parasite in their mouths.