|My Mother's Cat -- Kia -- cute for us but not for fish|
Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Menhaden populations of our oceans and estuary are crashing. But pet owners could help play an important role in their restoration.
When in nature, Atlantic Menhaden, a fish in the herring family, are an important food source for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, bluefin tuna, bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, sharks and other fish species. Menhaden are also a direct food source for herons, eagles, osprey and egrets. Menhaden are filter feeders that swim with mouths open ingesting particles of algae, plankton and other tiny creatures. As they grow to a foot or more, menhaden act as a protein conversion mechanism and when eaten, provide an unmatched source of protein to all predators. Without healthy quantities of Menhaden in our oceans and bay waters, there would be a gaping hole in the food chain that will have cascading affects on a whole host of species and the ecosystem.
Menhaden are the second largest commercial fishery in the United States. Once caught, shiploads of Menhaden are ground down or “reduced” to fish meal and oil for use as livestock and fish farm feed, pet food, fertilizer and hundreds of other hidden uses. Menhaden are also used, (whole) commercially in traps for other species like blue claw crab and lobster and their Omega-3 rich oils are widely used in fish oil supplements and many other nutraceutical products sold for human consumption.
Overfishing of Atlantic Menhaden has occurred in 52 of the last 54 years – with more Menhaden being removed from the population than nature has been able to create. More than 400 million pounds of Menhaden are estimated to be caught each year. Affects on fish and birds because of a lack of Menhaden in nature are already being seen – malnourishment in striped bass, weakfish and others are due in part to the dramatic decline of the Menhaden population, now at an historical low.
While recounting the plight of the Menhaden at a recent meeting, Capt. Paul Eidman with Menhaden Defenders (www.menhadendefenders.org) shared with me an important contribution pet owners can make towards saving the Menhaden – pick your pet food wisely.
Menhaden are used as a primary ingredient in cat and dog food. By choosing to feed your pets with products that don’t rely upon Menhaden as an ingredient you can help remove the incentive for overharvesting this important species; and help save not only their populations but those of striped bass, weakfish, tuna, dolpins, eagles, egrets, osprey and more. Many brands include items like “ocean fish” or fish meal on the label which makes it very hard to know what is actually in your pet’s food. Through careful label inspection, research and phone calls to customer service, Capt. Eidman has worked to identify a few non-Menhaden pet food options for his own pets. One brand that he mentioned that was both affordable and easy to find was Menhaden-Free Merrick Pet Foods brand. There surely are other options, but they are tough to identify, so to start you on a path of immediately helping to protect the Menhaden and all the species that rely upon them, we share with you this known option.