H. Bruce Franklin's The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden in America is a must read for anyone interested in the health of the marine environment, the history of the fishing industry and its offshoots, or simply fishing as a recreational activity. The story Franklin tells of a fish few have heard of is as gripping as a novel, the book is studded with lyrical descriptions of menhaden schools and the countless varieties of fish and sea birds that feast on them, and the voyage on which Franklin takes the reader through history, economics, ecology, and marine biology is epic in scope though packed into only 200 entertaining pages.
Franklin demonstrates irrefutably that menhaden are crucial to the survival of such highly prized food fish as striped bass, such delicacies as oysters and crabs, such endangered bird species as ospreys and loons, and ultimately even our bays and estuaries. That is because menhaden not only form the main diet of numerous fish and aquatic birds, but even more importantly perform the indispensable function of filtering the water by eating algae that otherwise proliferate into toxic blooms, choke out oxygen, and create dead zones. Over the past five decades, however, menhaden themselves have become an endangered species as a result of overfishing by a reduction industry that searches for them with spotter planes, scoops up whole schools in huge seine nets, and converts them into commodities readily available from other sources.
After detailing the ecological catastrophe that awaits us if this senseless overfishing drives menhaden into extinction, Franklin offers hope that we can still save our environment. His inspiring last chapter shows how recreational anglers and environmentalists can unite to protect menhaden from the reduction industry and how menhaden populations have rebounded wherever the reduction industry has been banned. This is one of those rare books that everyone can read with profit and enjoyment.