Size: 15 inches
Habitat/Range: Shallow coastal waters and estuaries, along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia, Canada to northern Florida.
The Atlantic menhaden is a species of fish related to the herring. It is silver in color with a black spot on its shoulder behind the gill openings. Menhaden will swarm together and form compact groups known as "schools", which are usually large in size and made up of both juveniles and mature adults. Since they are filter feeders, they have no teeth and feed by swimming with the mouth open and the gill openings spread. An adult menhaden is capable of filtering between 6 and 7 gallons of water per minute, feeding on phytoplankton and zooplankton. It can tolerate a wide salinity range, from almost fresh water to full-strength sea water. During the fall and early winter, most menhaden migrate south to North Carolina, where they remain until March and early April. Menhaden are used in the production of fish oil, fertilizer and fishmeal. They are a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to cut risks of heart disease and possibly other diseases, such as Alzheimer's.