UPDATE: On Friday, regulators voted to limit the catch of this crucial Atlantic species by 20 percent. The conservation community has celebrated this vote as an important first step towards the end of overfishing of this important little fish, the Atlantic menhaden.
Menhaden are reflective of so many other critical species of fish that need to stay in the water to "fulfill their ecological role."
To read more on Friday's vote, check out this article from The New York Times.
In the marine ecosystems from Maine to Florida, one little silver fish, the menhaden, serves as a critical food source for wildlife like whales, dolphins, sharks, eagles and even other fish like tuna, cod and striped bass.
Photo courtesy of Pew Environment Group
This fish is referred to as "the most important fish in the sea" by researchers, yet overfishing is causing the overall population of menhaden to plummet at historic rates.
According to the Pew Environment Group, more menhaden are now being caught than any other fish along the Eastern seaboard, including in areas like the Chesapeake Bay where a majority of the catch comes from.
Every year, more than 410 million pounds of these fish are plucked from the Atlantic to be used in everything from fertilizer and pet food to feed for farm animals and farm-raised fish. Menhaden are also used in dietary supplements, as a high source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Studies suggest that the rapid decrease in the number of available menhaden will soon have a crippling impact on East Coast's marine food web and commercial and recreational fishing industries that fish cod and striped bass.
Species like the tarpon will suffer without enough menhaden, their primary source of food!
On December 14, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is set to cast crucial votes on the management and monitoring of menhaden fishing stocks.
Without a coast-wide catch limit, the species has little chance for recovery.
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