Starred Review. Franklin, a historian and author of over 15 books (most recently War Stars), was inspired by his passion for saltwater angling to write this history of the all-but-extinct menhaden, a fish that's historically served an essential part of the Atlantic coastal food web, including human populations (natives and settlers both). Integrating his own observations, Franklin spins a grim but compelling tale of the role menhaden play in maintaining critical near-shore habitats, their utility to early Americans and the collapse of their stocks over the past 150 years. Beginning in Maine during the latter half of the 19th century, the menhaden decline has accelerated alongside the nation's economic and technological growth, in particular the increasing sophistication of the fishing industry. Effects are widespread: as the menhaden population thins out, so have bass, bluefish, weakfish and other species, while estuaries suffer catastrophic phytoplankton blooms that create long-lived "dead zones" in which nothing can survive. This informative, riveting narrative exposes the greed, short-sightedness and unintended consequences which nearly destroyed the Atlantic coast ecosystem entirely, and continue to wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico. Franklin's final chapter provides a measure of hope, describing the happy but imperiled recovery of menhaden populations along New Jersey and New England coastlines.
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"Franklin shows how anglers and environmentalists can work together to preserve this crucial species."
"Franklin's book on the runty menhaden is a killer whale achievement. It's an eloquent call to end the phony business of incremental regulation of fisheries that are rapidly being driven by industry into the abyss."
"'prose is lucid and infused with an urgency that depends little on hyperbole and largely on careful documentation. His compelling narrative informs and enlightens."
(The Washington Post)
"Franklin's book is thus not merely an elegant and erudite study of a moribund industry, but an impassioned plea to return our ailing East Coast waters to a state of healthy equilibrium."
(Natural History magazine)
"This informative, riveting narrative exposes the greed, short-sightedness and unintended consequences which nearly destroyed the Atlantic coast ecosystem entirely..."
(Publishers Weekly, starred review)
". . .an optimistic book. It deals with a resilient little thing that, unlike larger, longer-lived species such as cod, readily bounces back if given the chance."
"By 1880 there were almost three times more menhaden ships than whaling ships, but since then only three authors have written books about menhaden, and only Bruce Franklin has told the real story. The Most Important Fish in the Sea is a valuable history, a desperately needed warning and a terrific read."
(Ted Williams Conservation Editor, Fly Rod & Reel, Editor-at-Large, Audubon)
"When I was growing up, the Atlantic beaches were occasionally decorated with ranks of dead, smelly menhaden, which we knew as 'mossbunkers.' It took this marvelous book to reveal the ecological, nutritional, and economic significance of Brevoortia tyrannus. Who would have thought that the mossbunker, almost inedible because of its oily flesh, would be one of the most important components of America's commercial fisheries and the health of its coastal waters?"
(Richard Ellis author of The Empty Ocean and Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn)
"This a fascinating, chilling and yet hopeful account of fish we need for the health of our marine environment."
"How is it possible that a sizeable fish vital to the oceanic food chain and intertwined for three centuries with the cultural histories of both natives and settlers could nevertheless completely escape the notice of most Americans and within a few short years be driven to the brink of extinction for no valid reason whatever? This well researched and vigorously written book—certain to be of wide interest to academic and general readers alike—will tell you why."
(Lawrence Buell Harvard University, author of The Environmental Imagination)
"The history of this fish's exploitation for fertilizer and to manufacture numerous products is a fascinating slice of Americana. How menhaden have fallen prey today to a single corporation—with potentially catastrophic effects to the ecosystem—is a saga that will outrage every conservation-minded citizen."
(Dick Russell author of Striper Wars and Eye of the Whale)
"Franklin makes the case—persuasively—that the menhaden's role in marine ecology, and its story of decline, is 'perhaps unmatched anywhere on the planet.'"