The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a silvery, highly compressed fish in the herring family, Clupeidae. A filter feeder, it lives on plankton caught in midwater. An adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute and they play an important role in clarifying ocean water. They are also a natural check to the deadly red tide.
Menhaden occur in large numbers in the North Atlantic, ranging from Nova Scotia, Canada to central Florida, USA. They swim in large schools, some reportedly up to 40 miles long. As a result of their abundance they are important prey for a wide range of predators including bluefish, striped bass cod, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, and tuna.
The Atlantic menhaden is popular for use as live or dead bait. The fish is notorious for its rapid deterioration when caught, as well as its bony and oily makeup. As a result, they are primarily used for the production of Fish meal, oil and fertilizer. It is likely the fish that Squanto taught the Pilgrims to bury alongside freshly planted seeds as fertilizer. It went on to be used for this purpose on a large scale on farmland on the Atlantic coast, though this process was stopped after it was realized that the oily fish parched the soil.
In recent years their population is considered to be sustainable coast wide, though a possibility for a localized depletion exists in the Chesapeake Bay due to a concentrated harvest.
The Atlantic menhaden is also called Pogy, Mossbunker, Bug fish, Alewife, Shad, Greasetail, Bunker, Bunker fish and Fat back,