Menhaden, also known as bunker, are the bait fish fed on by pretty much every larger fish living on the East Coast.
The menhaden are vital to the ecosystem.
From wikipedia: The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a small, oily-fleshed fish that plays a major role in the marine ecosystem on the east coast of the United States. It goes by many names, including Western Atlantic Herring, bunker, pogy, mossback, bugmouth, alewife, and fat-back. The maximum size for the Atlantic menhaden is usually 15 inches (380 mm). The average size is smaller in the southern portion of their range, and largest in the north. They are bright silver, and have black spots extending horizontally from the gill plate to the tail, with the largest directly behind the gill plate. They are quite flat and soft fleshed, with a deeply forked tail. The edges of the fins and tail often have a yellowish hue. At sea, schools may contain millions of members.
Menhaden are omnivorous filter feeders, feeding by straining food particles from water. They travel in large, slow moving, and tightly packed schools with open mouths. Filter feeders typically take into their open mouths "materials in the same proportions as they occur in ambient waters". Menhaden primarily eat phytoplankton (microscopic plants); although, since they are omnivorous, they take in a small portion of zooplankton (microscopic animals). Even though most other related fish (in the family Clupeidae) eat zooplankton, "Menhaden primarily consume phytoplankton, that is, algae and other drifting bits of vegetable matter. The ecological significance of this difference can hardly be overstated."
In my next posts I'm going to give updates on the huge harvests hurting these fish every day.