Gulf Menhaden

Scientific Name: Brevoortia patronus (Goode 1878)

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): 161734

pogy, sardine, large-scale menhaden, shad, fatback, bunker, and moss bunker

finescale menhaden, Brevoortia gunteri
yellowfin menhaden, Brevoortia smithi
Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyranus

Three menhaden species that occur in the Gulf of Mexico.
Three menhaden species that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Top - Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) photo courtesy Dusty McDonald. Middle - finescale menhaden (B. gunteri) photo courtesy Dusty McDonald. Bottom - yellowfin menhaden (B. smithi) photo courtesy John Mareska.

Gulf menhaden range from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, across the western and northern Gulf to Tampa Bay, Florida. Finescale menhaden occur from Mississippi Sound southwestward to the Gulf of Campeche in Mexico. Yellowfin menhaden range from Chandeleur Sound, Louisiana, southeastward to the Caloosahatchee River, Florida, to Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

Gulf menhaden are characterized by large scales (36-50 oblique rows crossing the midline of the body); a series of smaller spots on the body behind the scapular spot; and prominent, radiating striations on the upper part of the opercle.

Yellowfin and finescale menhaden have smaller scales (58-76 rows) and lack the smaller spots and strong opercular striations.

The Gulf menhaden’s life cycle includes offshore spawning with recruitment to, and maturation in, nearshore rivers, bays, bayous, and other nearshore habitats and return to offshore waters to complete the cycle. Menhaden grow rapidly as they filter feed on an abundant supply of plankton in estuaries, and most reach maturity at age-1. Menhaden are very prolific and are abundant throughout nearshore waters where they form schools, usually of the same size and age class.

Gulf menhaden are selective feeders throughout most of the larval stage consuming large phytoplankton initially but switch to zooplankton as they become juveniles. Larger juveniles and adults are omnivorous filter feeders with a variety of items including phytoplankton and organic detritus/silt. Food size varies with size of fish.

Because of their great abundance and schooling behavior, Gulf menhaden are prey for a large number of piscivorous fish and birds.

The commercial Gulf menhaden reduction fishery is one of the United States' oldest and most valuable fisheries with landings dating to the late 1800s. Reduction landings (fish converted to meal and oil) over the last decade averaged 497,500 mt annually.

The Gulf menhaden bait fishery grew rapidly during the 1980s but leveled off in the 1990s and today is almost negligible, compared to reduction fishery landings. Menhaden are most often used for bait in the blue crab and crawfish fisheries; however, they are also used in the fisheries for stone crab, spiny lobster, and various commercial and recreational finfish.

Reduction of Gulf menhaden yields three products: fish meal, fish oil, and condensed fish solubles. The aquaculture industry is heavily dependent on fish meal to improve feed efficiency and produce maximum growth rates. Over the last decade, approximately 50-60% of the menhaden fish meal production is consumed in the US, while demand from Asia, particularly China is rapidly growing primarily due to the aquaculture feed segment.

Roughly 75% of the crude oil is used in aquaculture feeds, both domestically and internationally and about 70% refined oil is used domestic pet food production and the rest goes into the human food ingredient market and in non-consumptive products such as paints and dyes.

Gulf menhaden is managed by each of the individual state marine agencies. The commercial fishing fleet operates predominantly in Louisiana and Mississippi waters with some fish harvest from Texas and occasionally Alabama. Each state monitors their own populations through fishery-dependent and -independent sampling programs.

The GSMFC provides advice through the Menhaden Advisory Committee on various biological and habitat related issues and annual fishing effort.

Results from the benchmark stock assessment for Gulf menhaden suggest the implementation of an MSY proxy (fecundity (SSB)) and reference points relative to the current level of fishing effort to manage the stock.

The estimated biomass associated with reference target (F35%) and limit (F30%) levels were calculated at F35%, (680,765 mt) and F30% (663,583 mt). The target and threshold harvest levels will serve as accountability measures to ensure that the fishery remains viable. The stock assessment concluded that the Gulf menhaden stock is neither overfished nor is overfishing occurring (SEDAR32A).

The GSMFC’s fishery management plans (FMPs) are a cooperative effort of the five Gulf states under the guidance of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act. The FMPs are developed by a core group of state agency scientists with expertise on the various species. In addition, each member contributes their state’s perspective to discussions that result in recommendations for potential management and data collection, intended to improve the understanding of the species and its fishery.

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