That’s what some call it. We called them bunker, and still do. The native Americans called them menhaden, and that’s their more formal name.
The humble Atlantic menhaden may not look like much, but this fish plays a vital role in the ocean food web. Striped bass, bluefish, whales, dolphins, sharks, and birds like osprey and terns depend on menhaden as a critical food source. But unrestricted industrial fishing endangers menhaden — and in turn, the rest of the marine ecosystem. Already, menhaden have plunged 90% from historic levels.
The big schools of my youth are gone. But before my time, catches were shipped out on railroad cars, and the fishery was so successful that many catching companies drove themselves out of business. Near my house at Lazy Point stand the remains of four menhaden processing plants that thrived themselves out of existence in the early 1900s. If you take it all, you end up with nothing.
We need to get these schools back, to let them rebuild.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets Dec. 14 to vote on a plan to rebuild the menhaden population. Ninety-four scientists, including renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, recently wrote to the ASMFC making the case for strong protection for menhaden. This brief video explains why protecting this little fish could bring big benefits for the coastal ecosystem.