|Gulf Menhaden (Brevoortia patronus), captured in Galveston Bay, TX|
The Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) is a small marine filter feeding fish belonging to the family Clupeidae. The range of Gulf menhaden encompasses the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico nearshore waters, with the exception of the extreme eastern Yucatan and western Cuba. Evidence from morphology  and DNA analyses  suggest that the Gulf menhaden is the Gulf of Mexico complement to the Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). Both species support large commercial reduction fisheries, with Gulf menhaden supporting the 2nd largest fishery, by weight, in the United States.
Range and Distribution
The Gulf menhaden occurs throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but its distribution is patchy. The center of distribution of the species appears to be the northwest/northcentral Gulf, particularly in Louisiana and Texas where populations are very large and numerous. In the southern Gulf of Mexico the range of Gulf menhaden overlaps that of the closely related finescale menhaden (Brevoortia gunteri), and there is evidence for resource partitioning (a process whereby closely related species occurring in close proximity results in subtle differences in ecological niches) between these species. In the eastern Gulf, the range of Gulf menhaden overlaps that of the yellowfin menhaden (Brevoortia smithi), and hybridization between these species has been demonstrated using morphological  and DNA evidence. Gulf menhaden also may have a presence on the southern Atlantic coast of Florida, although this finding is based primarily upon DNA evidence.
The Gulf menhaden is a filter feeder which uses modifications of the branchial apparatus (gill arches and gill rakers) for food capture. Although they are generalist planktivores, they may specialize on particular prey sizes or types, depending upon developmental stage, as well as the presence of interspecific competitors. Spawning occurs offshore in winter (October–March). Eggs and larvae are pelagic and are carried into estuarine nursery areas via prevailing currents. As a result, migration at this stage can be lengthy, and populations of Gulf menhaden throughout the Gulf of Mexico are generally thought to comprise a single genetic stock.
The Gulf menhaden fishery
The Gulf menhaden supports the 2nd largest fishery, by weight, in the United States, and dates to the 1800s. On average, 400-600 kilotons of Gulf menhaden are extracted and used for reduction annually, with a much smaller number being captured for use as bait. Recently the use of menhaden has come under criticism, particularly following the scathing evaluation of the industry by H. Bruce Franklin in his book entitled “The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America”. Scientific counterpoints to the Franklin book can be found, and there is some debate as to whether the fishery has surpassed sustainable levels. In any event, current industry landings are comparable to historical landings despite the fact that there are fewer vessels and reduction plants operating than at any other time since the peak of the industry in the mid-1980s.
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- Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, menhaden page