Mathematics of Menhaden

Feature Photo: Osprey in Flight After Catching a Menhaden Fish – Abeselom Zerit

Menhaden are often referred to as the most important fish in the sea, and for good reason. Just about every fish, many marine mammals, and sea birds on the Atlantic coast eat them! Yet, menhaden management is often polarizing, lacking adequate science, and arguably not conservative enough.

ASGA firmly believes in improving the models that inform how many menhaden need to be left in the ecosystem for predators, the methodology for analyzing the Chesapeake Bay at an ecosystem level (and managing the fishery sustainably), developing formal management in the Gulf of Mexico, and advocating for rigorous menhaden science. 

Several weeks ago at the Spring ASMFC Meeting, we saw a presentation from Dr. Genny Nesslage from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory about her work on menhaden overwintering off the New Jersey coast, a phenomenon that fishermen observed for years, yet fisheries science had largely not captured through fishery-independent data. One of the most intriguing aspects was learning how Dr. Nesslage utilized advanced fishing sonar technology to estimate these menhaden schools’ size accurately. While this was the big takeaway, the work also collected important biological data that could inform upcoming menhaden stock assessments in 2025. 

We collected a large number, over three hundred samples, of those scales and otoliths (the ear bones) that we can basically use to count the rings like tree rings to get their ages […] I think it’s a matter of getting the methods down and coming up with some best practices with this variant, informative data that we are able to collect on these older animals that we almost never see in the biological sampling that’s done at ports.

Dr. Nesslage discussing menhaden aging in EP144 of the Guide Post

Menhaden advocates and anglers interested in learning more can tune into the latest episode of The Guide Post Podcast for the full discussion with ASGA’s Will Poston and Dr. Nesslage about this exciting menhaden research and some management commentary – “EP144: Mathematics of Menhanden” – available now on all major podcast platforms.

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