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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay

By Deane Winegar

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Chesapeake Bay > Sidebars > Atlantic Menhaden

Atlantic Menhaden

Tourists along the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay often ask what the large ships and spotter planes are doing close to shore. The ships are likely menhaden boats from Reedville, using weighted nets to surround schools of the Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). The oily fish is used to produce fertilizer, food for livestock, pet food, fishmeal, and industrial oil.The menhaden or bunker, as they are called, is pursued not only by humans, but also by whales, sharks, porpoises, and bluefish. The voracious bluefish attack the thick schools of baitfish in a frenzy, slashing the menhaden to pieces and attracting screaming seagulls overhead—a giveaway to anglers looking for some exciting fishing. The seagulls dive to pick up scraps of menhaden on the surface and anglers cast anything shiny into the melee, often hooking a fish on every cast.

Menhaden are often visible in the surf, their shiny sides flashing as they dart just beneath the surface. There is often audible flapping and splashing as the fish engage in a never-ending attempt to outmaneuver their enemies.

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Published (print): 2000, Published (Web): April 2001, Revised (Web): November 2002, ISBN: 1-56352-544-5
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