The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) and Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) are small, oily-fleshed fish found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. They are bright silver in color, and have a number of black spots extending horizontally from the gill plate to the tail, with the largest, or humeral, spot found directly behind the gill plate. They are quite flat and soft fleshed, with a deeply forked tail. The edges of the menhaden’s fins and tail often have a yellowish hue. The maximum size for the Atlantic menhaden is usually about 15 inches in length, with Atlantic menhaden typically reaching a larger size than its Gulf of Mexico cousin.
At sea, schools of menhaden may number in the millions. While there are other species of menhaden, including the finscale and yellowfin menhaden, the Atlantic and Gulf menhaden comprise the overwhelming majority of the commercial fishery.
Menhaden are important for producing fish meal and oil, both used in a number of important commercial ventures. The fish meal is used extensively as an additive in food for a variety of animals, including dairy cattle, swine, and fish in aquaculture facilities. The oil has had a number of industrial applications in the past, such as lubricants; however, in more recent years, the oil has been refined to produce omega-3 fish oil products for human consumption, including food additives and capsules. These heart-healthy products are recognized by the health care industry as important supplements for improving and maintaining a healthy life-style.