Not many people give thought to menhaden, the little oily Atlantic fish that spawns in coastal estuaries.
But a lot depends on the great schools of menhaden the livelihood of commercial fishermen and the sport of recreational anglers, as two examples, since some of their favorite fish, like striped bas, feed on menhaden.
But most people come into contact with menhaden in the aisle of health supplements. There, it is packaged in the form of Omega Protein pills, the tablets full of Omega-3 fatty acids, a fact that Mother Jones exposed in a 2006 investigation. (The oil also ends up in a variety of surprising consumer products, from cosmetics to linoleum.)
Now, states on the Chesapeake Bay are fighting over what to do about menhaden, given that their numbers have dropped so low that striped bass may not be eating enough to maintain strength against disease, according to an Op-Ed in the Virginian-Pilot.
Only Virginia and North Carolina allow fishing for menhaden, which are unfortunately not alone among fish in peril. River herring, another little oily fish, and their cousins the American shad, are in steep declines coastwide, also likely due to overfishing. There's a sustainable amount of fish that can be taken from a river, estuary or ocean, but once that limit is exceeded it can take a disproportionately long time for the fish to recover. Most fish are depleted before scientists have even documented it, and decades pass before the fish can be sustainably caught again.
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