When we think of how mankind has used fish throughout history the first uses that come to mind are either as food or bait. But, there have been, and are, many other uses for fish and some may surprise you. The more mundane uses for items like fish bones have been money and sewing needles. Oyster shells had been used for knives and whole lobsters as fertilizer.One of the more modern ways to use fish is to process them into fishmeal and oil among other products. This type of fishery used to supply the raw material is called a reduction fishery. This is where the whole fish is processed down into a variety of basic substances for use in the manufacture of other products.The Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest reduction fishery in the United States, if not the world, utilizing menhaden.The Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus), also called the pogy, is a member of the herring family and has the typical sardine-like look with silver scales, narrow body and relatively small size (<12). Gulf menhaden form massive schools from near shore to the start of the continental shelf and is actively sought by purse seine boats.According to NMFS the commercial landings in the Gulf for this species were over 13.7 billion (yes, billion) pounds from 1990 to 2000, with a landed value of $656 million. You may have noticed as you drive west on I-10 through eastern Mississippi that at times there is something fishy in the air. That is one way to tell if you are near a fishery reduction plant – the smell.Uses for reduction fishery products are varied and expanding. Species of fish that are low on the food chain like menhaden and mullet are relatively easy and cheaper to grow an aquaculture setting as compared to say, red snapper. The largest use for menhaden products is as fishmeal in animal feed, where it functions as a high protein additive. It is fed to many animals including cattle, pigs, turkeys, mink, fish and shrimp and in pet foods to increase growth.The oil from menhaden, with its Omega-3 fatty acids is an approved food additive. Fish oil is used as an ingredient in sauces, salad dressings, sports drinks, baked goods and soups. Menhaden oil is included in cooking oils and shortenings, marine lubricants, emulsifiers, resins, oils for paint and lipstick and is used in tanning hides. Menhaden oil has been popular for many years in Europe as a health food supplement and as a primary ingredient in margarine. When fish are used to feed other fish in aquaculture production it takes a minimum of ten pounds of fish feed to grow one pound of the cultured fish.In 1989, the FDA gave ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) status to partially and fully hydrogenated menhaden oils. In 1997, GRAS status was extended to refined menhaden oil. Refined menhaden oil is available in healthy food stores in capsule form. Because of its high Omega-3 component, fish oil has been approved as an additive to baby formulas in United States.
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