As the population of this once abundant fish dwindles in dramatic fashion, that theory might be put to a test. Humans do not eat the oily and bony menhaden, but it has caught by the metric ton each year, ground into meal and fed to farm fish and livestock.
Environmentalists fear that the commercial catch takes food from striped bass, bluefish, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna, loons and eagles that rely on menhaden.
The reduction of menhaden, widely dubbed “the most important fish in the ocean,” is such a concern that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday to consider whether its harvest for commercial products and sport-fishing bait should be significantly lowered for the first time in years.
In addition to feeding salt¬water fish that Americans love to fish and eat, tiny menhaden feed on phytoplankton that contributes to algae blooms and oxygen-depleted “dead zones.”
The commissioners are expected to consider a proposal to increase the number of young menhaden, as well as egg production, possibly by reducing the menhaden catch, experts say. A final decision could be made in November after a three-month public comment period is held on whatever proposal the commission adopts, Berger said.
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