This young guest has a handful of bunker, an oily fish also known regionally as pogies and by its Native American name, menhaden. Bunker are not consumed by people, but are harvested by the millions for their production of fish oil and products derived from it, such as lipstick, paint and salmon feed, just to name just a few.
Almost every carnivorous creature that forages in or around Quonochontaug Pond’s shore eats the poor bunker. Small bunker, such as the ones pictured here, are known as peanut bunker, and they are chased by fish ranging from snapper blues, which aren’t much bigger than their prey, to big old striped bass. Birds including herons, egrets, cormorants and gulls also get in on the action. If a bunker makes it to maturity – the odds of which are not in its favor – it will be about a foot long and weigh about a pound or two. Big stripers will swallow them whole, bluefish will bite them in half, seals will chew on them and fishermen will net them and cut them for chunk bait. Life as a menhaden is tough.
The reason we were able to catch a bounty in our seine net is the same reason they are so readily harvested at an industrial level. Bunker are schooling fish, meaning they swirl in tight formations as they feed and try to avoid being fed upon. Some boats hire spotter planes to radio in the location of the schools and then circle the school with a purse seine net and catch every last one of them.
Once there was an unbelievable bounty of bunker and now their population is much lower than it should be. So, here’s to grabbing a handful of fish and throwing them back! To our next generation of decision makers, we hope that the hands-on experiences you have during your stay at the Inn will kindle a passion for conservation tomorrow.