The saying goes that "looks can be deceiving," and it's an accurate expression for the menhaden fish. This little fish plays a powerful role in the undersea world. The menhaden may be near the bottom of the food chain, but it supports many species from popular sport fish all the way up to Atlantic whales. And if the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean are where the menhaden call home, this little fish could win the Good Housekeeping Award. That's because the menhaden is a filter-feeder, meaning it cleans impurities in the water. That's crucial to the Chesapeake Bay, where water pollution from farm and sewage runoff is creating increasingly severe problems for the bay and its inhabitants.

But this hard-working little fish is disappearing fast, and its job in the food chain is irreplaceable.

Finding Nemo: What happens to a little fish sucked out of its environment?

The menhaden is not only a small fish, but it's also rather bony - not exactly appetizing for most people. But there is an enormous fishing operation sucking millions of these little fish out of coastal waters every year. In fact, menhaden make up America's second largest fishery. So, if people aren't eating the menhaden, why is this little fish being targeted?

The Omega Protein company vacuums massive quantities - hundreds of thousands of tons - of menhaden through state-of-the-art factory fishing vessels that locate entire schools of these tiny fish. The company then processes menhaden for use as protein supplements and fishmeal.

Ironically, much of Omega's fishmeal is sold to feed livestock or fish farms - uses that harm marine ecosystems and threaten fishing communities. In fact, one of the main uses for Omega's fishmeal is as chicken feed, adding to the high-nutrient wastes already choking many bays and estuaries - including the Chesapeake.  Runoff from chicken farms is also connected to the outbreak of toxic algae in the mid-Atlantic region. Omega fishmeal is also used as food for large-scale fish farms, which privatize the oceans and threaten wild fish stocks and traditional fisheries through pollution and parasitic infestations, among other dangers. Most of the remaining fishmeal goes into pet food. 

Menhaden populations today are at near record lows, and there are reports that some of their predators are starting to go hungry. The time to act is now, before the tiny menhaden is lost forever.

Latest Update

Fishing Cap Nixxed to Appease Big BusinessRead the full story.

The latest updates

 

Greenpeace and an independent NASA

Image | August 15, 2005 at 18:00

Greenpeace and an independent NASA-funded scientist complete measurements of melt lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet that show its vulnerability to warming temperatures.

Greenpeace and an independent NASA

Image | August 15, 2005 at 18:00

Greenpeace and an independent NASA-funded scientist complete measurements of melt lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet that show its vulnerability to warming temperatures.

Greenpeace and an independent NASA

Image | August 15, 2005 at 18:00

Greenpeace and an independent NASA-funded scientist complete measurements of melt lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet that show its vulnerability to warming temperatures.

Greenpeace and an independent NASA

Image | August 15, 2005 at 18:00

Greenpeace and an independent NASA-funded scientist complete measurements of melt lakes on the Greenland Ice Sheet that show its vulnerability to warming temperatures.

Ilulissat goings on

Blog by nicole | August 15, 2005

Greetings from Ilulissat, southeast of Disko Island. We arrived here two days ago after a day and a half transit from Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. We were at anchor yesterday but tied up at a dock this morning for open boats later...

Automatic cameras

Blog by nicole | August 15, 2005

"Please work", said Jason Box ( Ohio State Geography/Byrd Polar Research Center glaciologist) as if in prayer, before we even land. This morning he had retrieved the first of his automatic monitoring cameras - set up last May. It had...

full speed ahead

Blog by jhocevar | August 14, 2005 4 comments

It's been quite a week! Even after receiving around 20,000 comments from fishermen and environmentalists calling for a moratorium on factory fishing for menhaden and hundreds more who spoke out at public hearings, it still wasn't...

Talking with Greenland's National Museum director

Blog by nicole | August 11, 2005

Nuuk is home to the Greenland National Museum , which has displays on Greenlandic art and Greenlandic history. Its most famous artifacts are the Qilakitsoq mummies from the 15'th century. According to our guidebook, these were found...

Greenpeace activists prevent industrial fishing

Image | August 10, 2005 at 10:31

Greenpeace activists prevent industrial fishing giant Omega from reaching a large school of menhaden.

A Big Fight for a Small Fish

Feature story | August 9, 2005 at 18:00

Just as giant factory fishing nets were about to scoop up tens of thousands of fish from the Chesapeake Bay, our activists sped onto the scene in inflatables to rescue the small fish from a tragic fate.

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