Info > Gulf Menhaden
adults in nearshore waters and lower bays, juveniles in fresh
and brackish estuaries and rivers.
are dull silver with a greenish back. A prominent black spot
is found behind the gill cover, followed by a row of smaller
spots. Two similar species, the yellowfin menhaden, Brevoortia
smithi, in the eastern Gulf, and the finescale menhaden,
Brevoortia gunteri, in the western Gulf, lack the
row of smaller spots. All three species have yellowish fins.
Menhaden filter-feed on plankton, typically near the surface.
The small splashes made by a school of fish are used both
by live bait castnetters and commercial purse seiners to locate
All Gulf menhaden begin their lives between December and February
in offshore waters. An average of 23,000 eggs is produced
by each female. The eggs drift with water currents until they
hatch, usually within 48 hours. The larvae, after hatching,
are also helpless, drifting with the current. At their very
early stages they feed on large phytoplankton (microscopic
floating plants). As they grow larger and become able to swim,
they shift their diet to zooplankters (microscopic floating
animals). Finally, they lose their teeth and develop long,
complex, forward-pointing projections on each gill, called
gill rakers, to strain their adult diet of plankton from the
water. At this time, the stomach develops into a gizzard.
While still in their planktonic stage, Gulf menhaden larvae
make their way into low-salinity estuaries for early growth.
Whether this movement occurs only due to currents or whether
some active swimming is involved is not known, but entry into
estuaries is critical to their survival. Once in an estuary
and large enough to swim well, they frequently move into fresh
water, often over 30 miles up rivers. In estuaries they grow
rapidly and by summer they move to higher-salinity waters.
Migration offshore occurs later in the summer and in the fall.
Once offshore, they seldom venture into waters over 300 feet
deep. Few, if any, Gulf menhaden spawn their first winter,
but almost all fish are mature by their second winter, when
they are considered 1 year old. Average size at that age is
slightly over 5 inches long. Gulf menhaden will live to 5
and perhaps 6 years old, although the majority of fish in
the population are ages 1 and 2. A 5-year old fish will average
nearly 10 inches long.
to 8, and occasionally to 12 inches.
They are very boney and very oily, but they are one of the
best bait fish available. Fresh or frozen menhaden are commonly
used whole or cut for snapper and king mackerel fishing. Live
menhaden are excellent bait for all species, but are delicate.
Circular style live well tanks are useful. Live juvenile menhaden
are especially prized by spotted seatrout fishermen pursuing
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