A member of the Hiodontidae family, the mooneye is a close relative and very similar in appearance to the better known goldeye (see). It is most important as forage for assorted predator species. Its flesh is soft and bony and of no human food value, and it is not a target of anglers. Though often called a herring or a shad, it is neither.


The mooneye is a small fish whose compressed body is deep in proportion to its length and is covered with large, loose scales. Dark blue to blue green over the back, it is silvery on the sides and tapers to white on the belly. It has a small head and a short, bluntly rounded snout with a small terminal mouth, containing many sharp teeth on the jaws and the tongue.

The color of its eyes and the position of its anal fin distinguish it from the goldeye. The irises of the large eyes of the mooneye are silver colored (unlike the gold-colored irises of the goldeye). The mooneye’s dorsal fin begins before the anal fin (the goldeye’s begins opposite or behind its anal fin). The mooneye can be distinguished from the gizzard shad by not having a dorsal fin ray projection.


Mooneye are slightly larger on average than goldeye and are often found to be 2 pounds in weight, although their maximum attainable size is uncertain. They may live at least 10 years.

Spawning behavior

Mooneye spawn in the spring, moving up tributary rivers or streams. Food. This species feeds on plankton, insects, and small fish. Small mooneye are preyed upon by large predators, including walleye, pike, catfish, and salmon.


Endemic to North America, mooneye occur in the St. Lawrence Great Lakes region (except Lake Superior), the Mississippi River drainage, and the Hudson Bay basin from Quebec to Alberta, and southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Mooneye are also present in Gulf Slope drainages from Mobile Bay, Alabama, to Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana.


Mooneye inhabit deep, warm, silty sections of medium and large rivers, the backwaters of shallow lakes connected to them, and impoundments.