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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: I’ll Take Menhaden

Published: December 16, 2022

By Mark Seth Lender

A herring gull glides above the herring (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Menhaden fish once gathered in schools several miles long and were a common food for predators like sharks, sea birds, and bass. But after humans turned them into everything from supplements to fertilizer their numbers plummeted by roughly 90 percent. In Long Island Sound they’re finally bouncing back and Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender, witnesses their return.

The short term has undone the long term. Having largely run out of big fish we have turned to small fish, then smaller fish; and the fish we used to call trash fish and finally, krill. The problem being the big fish eat the little fish who eat the krill and things even smaller. We rip the guts out top to bottom. What then?

Against the tide of immediate gain, other sectors take the Long View. Notably, the safe harbor provided by the National Wildlife Refuge System. and the work of the occasional politician like the late great Gerry Studds or a genuinely non-self-interested NGO such as Pew Charitable Trust among the profoundly rare examples. Together, they have made heroic efforts to preserve the bottom of the food chain, menhaden being one of the more successful success stories. I have spent my entire life in proximity to the Atlantic and these past three, four years are the only time I’ve ever seen menhaden in the hundreds of thousands, their normal state, one that had persisted for millennia.

I am not alone. It is as reported here quite true, the herring gulls hadn’t seen it either. The darting shadow of fish that the gulls’ moving forms provoked, they ignored. Until all of a sudden they figured out what it was, and what to do with it.

Back to Mark Seth Lender Field Notes


Hear Mark Seth Lender's piece, "I’ll Take Menhaden"

Author and photographer Mark Seth Lender’s website

Special thanks to Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge


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