Small fish, big story
A species of little fishes which I had never heard of before is the subject of a fascinating new book. Rutgers English professor H. Bruce Franklin, an enthusiastic saltwater angler, sounds an eye-opening environmental alarm in The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America. This book may change the way you shop!
Have you heard of menhaden? Hundreds of thousands of tons of them are part of our food chain: in fish meal that is fed to chickens, cows, and pigs, in fertilizers for crops, and in processed fish oil health supplements. Menhaden may also be part of your lipstick, sports drink, pet food, house paint, and "environmentally-friendly" insecticides.
Franklin skillfully weaves the natural history of the menhaden with the surprisingly large impact that industrialized menhaden fishing has had on the United States economy.
Commercial exploitation of menhaden for fertilizer and oil began in the nineteenth century. Industrialized menhaden fishing occurred on a scale far greater than the whaling industry. Menhaden lack the glamor of whales, they are usually described as smelly and unpalatable to humans. Modern menhaden fishing is also decidedly unglamorous: enormous industrial purse-seine nets scoop up entire schools.
Franklin presents compelling evidence that the populations of menhaden are vital to the health of our oceans and to many other species, and that they have been grievously over-fished. Commercial fishing supporters, including state and federal government regulators, feel otherwise. While debates rage on, menhaden schools continue to be harvested.
The statistics the author presents are mind-boggling. Franklin's view is controversial, but he presents inarguable similar cases of other vanished populations of animals that appeared to exist in limitless quantitities: passenger pigeons and American bison. Read this book and see what you think! I will be checking my seafood wallet card and discontinuing my fish oil supplements.