- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Shearwater; 2 edition (October 7, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781597265072
- ISBN-13: 978-1597265072
- ASIN: 1597265071
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #662,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America 2nd Edition
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About the Author
H. Bruce Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. He has authored or edited eighteen books, including War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America, Prison Writing in Twentieth-Century America, and Vietnam and Other American Fantasies. Franklin has lectured widely and his hundreds of articles and reviews have appeared in publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Science, The Nation, and Discover.
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Largely unfettered by meaningful regulation, the menhaden reduction industry has systematically plundered and devastated the menhaden population, first along the north Atlantic coast, and then the mid Atlantic. Now the ecology of the Gulf coast is threatened by the wholesale plunder of their vital menhaden population.
Franklin provides numerous examples of how the industry, represented now primarily by Omega Protein, continues their rape of the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf coast even though a token and meaningless cap was put on the menhaden harvest in the Bay.
If you want to understand why we need to immediately shut down the destructive menhaden reduction fishery, get this book, read it, then get in touch with your legislators and regulators. Or join the Coastal Conservation Association and become active.
I asked a local what kind of fish these amazing creatures were.
"Ah, they're just menhaden."
And that's the story on menhaden -- the amazing fish that everyone takes for granted. I bought this book (my wife: "You're buying a book on WHAT?") partly because my long-ago experience made me curious, and partly because of an interest in fisheries issues.
And what a pleasure. First, I found out that, at least on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, menhaden really are the most important fish in the sea. They convert the phytoplankton (small floating plant critters) into high-energy flesh, and thus become the primary food source for various sport fish, including bluefish. They also filter an astonishing amount of water (4 gallons per minute per adult fish), ensuring that sunlight penetrates deep enough to nurture eelgrass and that decaying phytoplankton don't choke all the oxygen out of the water. Even their dying is important -- bluefish rush into the giant schools and tear menhaden to bits, and the chunks the bluefish miss are a primary food source for crabs.
That is, if we don't catch them all and feed them to pigs and chickens, which is pretty much what we've been trying to do in one form or another for a couple of centuries.
The other big surprise was what a great read this book is. I've read pretty much every book on fisheries written for the general audience in the last decade, and let me tell you, it's sometimes a grim task. Not this time. I actually stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish this book. It's great read, blending history, science, and the author's personal experience as a recreational fisherman.
Before reading the book, I had some knowledge of the fact that there was once a large fish processing industry of some sort on the East Coast -- in many towns locals will point out where the "fish plant" used to be. I didn't realize that it involved processing menhaden for fertilizer, oil, and animal feed.
This industry has dwindled to exactly one barely profitable firm, protected by the infamously boneheaded state legislature of Virginia. The author passionately argues that catching menhaden for processing should be banned. And unlike a lot of environmental books, this one actually ends on an up note -- a complete ban on catching menhaden for processing in New Jersey waters seems to have led to a relatively quick recovery of the species.
This summer, I took another short vacation near one of Deleware's inland bays. And I actually saw some juvenile menhaden in the bay (the way they flop out of the water is quite characteristic) and a few menhaden minnows (called "peanuts") schooling in the ocean. May there soon be many more.