The Most Important Fish in the Sea
By H. Bruce Franklin

“If we do not put the heat on the ASMFC to do the right thing, Omega Protein will prevent any meaningful protection, the menhaden population will continue to crash, and species after species of the valued fish dependent on menhaden will crash with them.”


Franklin’s The Most Important Fish in the Sea depicts a marvelous portrait of our ocean’s unsung hero: the menhaden. It’s a tale that guides the reader through the rich history of the fish in North America–from its use by Native Americans as fertilizer, through the Civil War, to its vital role in the industrial revolution–and takes us all the way to the modern-day fishery. Franklin chronicles not only how important the fish has been throughout American history, but the role it plays in our economy today.

However, Franklin alerts us to a major catastrophe: the systematic slaughter of this fish that is destroying our marine environment. He proves that menhaden are useful not only for lipstick, pet food, and soap, but for several species of popular game and food fish, as well as several other birds and mammals. In fact, menhaden are crucial to our ocean ecosystem as a whole. As the number of menhaden has been dramatically reduced, many species of fish and other animals that depend on them have suffered enormously. And this tragedy is due largely to a single corporation: Omega Protein, Inc.

Franklin turns the plight of this plain little silver fish into an exciting adventure, tying in the ecological aspect of this story with poignant economic and political commentary, and revealing the emerging alliance between environmentalists and recreational fisherman aimed at saving the ocean’s most important fish.

H. Bruce Franklin is the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University and has authored many other books and articles about various aspects of American history.

You can find his book here.