What are Menhaden Fish?
Menhaden Fish, which sometimes are known as Mossbunker or bunker, are small oily Fish that are caught along the Atlantic coastline of the United States. They have a deeply forked tail and are typically no more than 15 inches in length.
Menhaden Fish are an incredibly important part of the marine ecosystem and represent a large portion of the diet of many other fish such as Mackerel, Tuna, and even Sharks.
One of the most popular locations that Menhaden Fish are caught is the Chesapeake Bay estuary, which borders the US states of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.
However, Menhaden Fish are not caught for human consumption and are instead used in many industrial or commercial products. For example, the oil derived from the Menhaden fish is often used in products such as soaps and paints.
However, the fish meal that remains after removing this oil is not wasted and is often used in animal feed or pet food as a dense source of animal-based protein.
As you can imagine, because this fish meal is a by-product, this fish meal is relatively inexpensive, which is one of the primary drivers behind its use in commercial livestock feed or dog food.
What is Fish Meal?
Many people are not sure what Fish or Meat Meal is, but it is surprisingly simple. Fish meal is the byproduct of the rendering process.
The rendering process removes the vast majority of the moisture and oil from Fish or meat. As water makes up the majority of fresh Fish or meat, this rendering leaves behind a much more concentrated ingredient that is very rich in protein.
As we touched on earlier, Menhaden Fish is most sought after for its oil, so the catch undergoes rendering upon arrival onshore. Menhaden Fish Meal then remains after this rendering to be sold for secondary purposes.
However, Menhaden Fish Meal isn’t the only popular fish meal, and others are regular ingredients in dog food recipes.
There is a wide range of Fish Meal ingredients used in dog food, but some common examples including Herring Meal, Whitefish Meal, Salmon Meal, and Ocean Fish Meal.
You can see an example of an ingredient list from a Canidae dog food recipe that includes several fish meal ingredients below.
Whitefish Meal, which is one of the most popular inclusions in pet food, includes Fish such as Cod, Hake, Haddock, and Flounder.
Ocean Fish Meal is extremely similar to Menhaden Fish Meal and can and often does contain some Menhaden Fish Meal along with other small ocean fish.
However, many look down upon ingredients like Ocean Fish Meal as they are vague and unspecific. You don’t know what the Ocean Fish Meal in question contains other than they are Fish from the ocean.
This is where many will see Menhaden Fish as superior or the preferred choice, despite the fact that Menhaden Fish Meal is likely to provide very similar nutrition to Ocean Fish Meal.
It is the fact that Menhaden Fish Meal is named and traceable that makes it a more reliable and consistent ingredient in dog food.
Menhaden Fish Meal Nutrition
The primary reason that Menhaden Fish are caught is for their fish oil. If you hadn’t guessed already, Menhaden Fish Oil is high in the Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids.
These Fatty Acids are well-known to provide a range of health benefits to both humans and dogs alike, including improving the health and condition of your dog’s heart, coat, and fur.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, much of this beneficial fish oil is extracted from the fish, so it’s not clear quite how much remains when this ingredient is added to dog food.
This lack or lower level of the Omega Fatty Acids present is disappointing as many dogs would see a noticeable improvement in their health, with just a small increase in the level of Omega Fatty Acids in their diets.
However, all of the protein and much of the fat contained in the Menhaden Fish will survive the rendering process (where the fish oil is removed).
Moreover, Fish Meal, such as Menhaden Fish Meal, is proven to be very bioavailable and digestible and includes all of the required amino acids needed for the growth, repair, and maintenance of a dogs body.
Menhaden Fish Meal has a particularly high ratio of protein to fat, which could be seen as advantageous to certain dogs.
Those dogs who could benefit from this one-sided ratio include those susceptible to weight gain, those attempting weight loss, or dogs with severe medical issues such as pancreatitis.
The Over Fishing of Menhaden Fish
Sadly, as with most popular Fish, Menhaden Fish are thought by many to be overfished in our oceans, and the estimated population has been steadily decreasing year on year.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the number of juvenile Menhaden Produced in the Chesapeake Bay has decreased dramatically over the last few decades, especially in the 1990s.
The commonly thought reason behind this potential overfishing of Menhaden Fish is that they are incredibly popular and in high demand.
However, while many are concerned about the overfishing of Menhaden Fish, others, especially in the fishing industry, do not believe that Menhaden are being overfished.
Large fish processors like DayBrook Fisheries believe that the Menhaden Fish industry and their business are sustainable. The company is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a sustainable source; however, some question its credibility.
Pet food is just one of the significant uses of Menhaden Fish across the United States. Menhaden Fish Meal is also used in fish farm feed due to its low cost and high protein content.
It is also used as a part of the feed that some commercial livestock animals consume, such as Cows or Pigs, where its protein can fuel and excellerate their growth.
Menhaden Fish are often used as an effective and affordable bait to catch more prized and premium seafood such as Crab and Lobster.
As mentioned earlier, Menhaden Fish Oil is used in beauty products for human consumption, such as Soap. Lastly, Menhaden Fish can even be used as a part of some fertilizers, although this is less common use.
While it is innovative that humans have found so many beneficial and productive uses out of such a tiny fish, if they are not harvested from our oceans at a rate that that is sustainable, then they may one day be off the table altogether.
Some ethical consumers would, therefore, suggest buying dog food that contains fish or fish meal that is from more sustainable sources, although they are exceedingly rare or expensive these days.
Dog Foods That Contain Menhaden Fish Meal
Menhaden Fish Meal is used in many dog food formulas, including those that could be considered high-quality or premium. They are often used to increase the overall level of protein above what their core meat and fish ingredients provide.
Increasing the protein content of a dog food formula by using Menhaden Fish Meal is far better than padding out dog food with high levels of plant-based proteins.
Protein from ingredients like grains, legumes, and plant-byproducts such as Pea Protein or Potato Protein is inferior to animal or fish protein. This is as it does not contain the full range of needed amino acids and has a lower biological value.
Some well-known examples of dog food brands that utilize Menhaden Fish Meal include Victor, Wellness, Rachel Ray Nutrish, Nulo, Nature’s Logic, Natural Balance, Earthborn Holistic, Canidae, and American Journey.
Some prime examples of specific dog food recipes that utilize Menhaden Fish Meal include Victor’s extremely popular Hi-Pro Plus recipe, Nulo’s Freestyle Salmon & Peas recipe, and Canidae’s Pure Real Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe.
Victor’s Hi-Pro Plus is a fitting example of a dog food brand utilizing Menhaden Fish Meal to boost protein and fat levels instead of lower-quality vegetable by-products.
Menhaden Fish Meal features 6th on the ingredient list helping to contribute towards a minimum protein and fat proportion of 30% and 20%, respectively.
Dog Foods That Do Not Contain Menhaden Fish Meal
Don’t like the idea of your dog eating fish meals such as Menhaden Fish Meal? Would you prefer they eat dog food that only contains whole fish ingredients that are suitable for human consumption?
Fear not, there are several reputable dog food brands that have chosen not to utilize Menhaden Fish Meal in their recipes, including Diamond, Farmina, Go!, Orijen, Purina Pro Plan, and Taste of the Wild.
Based on these brands, some high-quality and nutritious recipes that focus on fish include Orijen’s Six Fish recipe, Purina Pro Plan’s Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Formula, and Taste of the Wild’s Ancient Stream With Ancient Grains Recipe.
None of these three recipes relies on lower-quality ingredients and instead has ample portions of high-quality fish ingredients like Salmon, Mackerel, or Herring.