By GREG GERRITT/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — Menhaden have been called the most important fish in the sea. They can grow up to 14 inches in length and live in schools. They eat plankton, swimming through the water with open mouths, filtering the water for anything edible.
Living close to the bottom of the food chain, menhaden then become food for bluefish, stripers, seals, osprey, eagles and just about every other predator in and along the Northeast Atlantic.
My experience with menhaden is primarily watching them in a downtown river. I remember my first early fall in Providence, when after months of looking into the tidal section of the Moshassuck River and seeing little life, I was astounded by the huge schools of little fish. A little research lead me to menhaden.
I tend to watch them in the tidal zone of the Moshassuck River, and they are about 1.5 inches long, the young of the year. The youngest fish live in the largest schools. One also sees schools with fish 3-4 inches long, about 6 inches long and schools of adults 12-14 inches long. In each case, on average, the larger the fish, the smaller the schools, and after watching how many of the fish have bite marks on them, and occasionally seeing predators grab them, it’s easy to understand how schools shrink over time.
Shooting video of fish can be difficult, but after a couple of weeks of trying, I found a day with the tides and sun properly aligned and got some pretty good pictures of menhaden schools. For your viewing pleasure, “Millions of Menhaden.”