The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America

Front Cover
Island Press, Apr 1, 2007 - Nature - 278 pages
In this brilliant portrait of the oceans’ unlikely hero, H. Bruce Franklin shows how menhaden have shaped America’s national—and natural—history, and why reckless overfishing now threatens their place in both. Since Native Americans began using menhaden as fertilizer, this amazing fish has greased the wheels of U.S. agriculture and industry. By the mid-1870s, menhaden had replaced whales as a principal source of industrial lubricant, with hundreds of ships and dozens of factories along the eastern seaboard working feverishly to produce fish oil. Since the Civil War, menhaden have provided the largest catch of any American fishery. Today, one company—Omega Protein—has a monopoly on the menhaden “reduction industry.” Every year it sweeps billions of fish from the sea, grinds them up, and turns them into animal feed, fertilizer, and oil used in everything from linoleum to health-food supplements. The massive harvest wouldn’t be such a problem if menhaden were only good for making lipstick and soap. But they are crucial to the diet of bigger fish and they filter the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, playing an essential dual role in marine ecology perhaps unmatched anywhere on the planet. As their numbers have plummeted, fish and birds dependent on them have been decimatedand toxic algae have begun to choke our bays and seas. In Franklin’s vibrant prose, the decline of a once ubiquitous fish becomes an adventure story, an exploration of the U.S. political economy, a groundbreaking history of America’s emerging ecological consciousness, and an inspiring vision of a growing alliance between environmentalists and recreational anglers.

What people are saying - Write a review

Must Read

User Review  - beachbud -

A must read for every recreational and commercial fisherman. A true reflection of the state of our Atlantic fishery. There is still time to positively impact the health and enjoyment of our Atlantic ocean and bays. Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

In reading Mr.Franklin's book,I found out very quickly that he is very much anti-commercial.That's an opinion and he's welcome to it I guess.I was very disappointed in his research.My 13 year old son did a better job on a recent paper that he did for elementary science.Most of the scientific information was taken from other peoples hard work and research.I asked him recently about his field research and he said " I've never been on a Menhaden boat,nor have I ever interviewed anyone in the business."That was very obvious as I read further into the book.I did my own research on this subject and have come to the conclusion that Mr.Franklin wrote this book in 2001 along about the time Menhaden was becoming a big political issue on the East coast.This book is one sided and full of misinformation.I would recommend saving your money on this one.I can recommend a much better book that covers the truth and science of this important little fish."All the Men Singing" by well renowned author,John Frey. 


Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
At War with Menhaden
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 10 - They assert that the sea there is swarming with fish, which can be taken not only with the net, but in baskets let down with a stone, so that it sinks in the water.

About the author (2007)

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.

Bibliographic information