Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Most Important Fish In The Sea"

Tomorrow evening (Friday April 20th), Save The Bay will host a discussion and booksigning by author H. Bruce Franklin about his latest book The Most Important Fish in the Sea about the history of the Atlantic menhaden fishery in the United States.

Menhaden management is a controversial topic and I'm sure Professor Franklin's talk will stimulate a lively discussion.

The event is at Save The Bay at 6:30 PM. It is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Please e-mail me at if you would like to come. JT


  1. Mr. Torgan:

    I am dissapointed that Save The Bay would lend its good name to this fiction author-- a few points about the book, "The Most Important Fish in the Sea"

    1) The Most Important Fish in the Sea and other attacks on the menhaden industry are threatening to eliminate hundreds of good paying jobs based on false science and pre-conceived notions by the author.

    2) H. Bruce Franklin, the author of The Most Important Fish in the Sea, provides no scientific evidence in his book that the commercial menhaden industry is either environmentally unsustainable or hurting the sport fish population.

    3) The book declares (p. 165) that menhaden are being depleted and that the fisheries have “collapsed” (p. 9), when in reality there is no evidence confirming this in the scientific record or in The Most Important Fish in the Sea. This is because science directly rebuts Franklin’s outrageous claims.

    4) The Most Important Fish in the Sea is a critique of capitalism, modernity and American society -- not a book based on science and the sustainability of the commercial menhaden industry.

    5) Island Press, the publisher, clearly did not fact check The Most Important Fish in the Sea. The author’s anecdotal evidence contradicts his own findings multiple times throughout the book.

    6) The Most Important Fish in the Sea states: "Even more important, the menhaden's filter feeding prevents or limits devastating algal blooms." (p. 8). In reality, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. According to the University of Rhode Island Sea Grant Programs: “It is possible that fish excretion makes a significant contribution of [ammonia] to fall phytoplankton blooms." (Environmental Effects of Atlantic Menhaden on Surrounding Waters.) In this case, science directly rebuts Franklin’s outrageous claims.

    7) H. Bruce Franklin, the author, writes that the menhaden industry is: "Operating without any limits in…” –in reality, the menhaden industry has operated under numerous limits regarding fishing seasons, fishing zones, minimum net mesh size requirements, permitting, and now, hard quotas in the Chesapeake Bay. If the author had done any research, he would have known that.

    8) Maybe the reason The Most Important Fish in the Sea is so full of inaccuracies, falsehoods and anecdotes is because H. Bruce Franklin, the author, is a historian and an expert on Vietnam, and not a marine scientist.

    9) The author is an admitted sport fishermen (p. 30) and sport fishermen are the biggest opponents of the commercial menhaden industry. This calls into question his motivations for writing The Most Important Fish in the Sea and explains his willingness to use false, anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific proof.

    10) The author of The Most Important Fish in the Sea mocks the hard working, blue-collar workforce that depends on the commercial menhaden industry to make a living and raise their families.

    11) The Most Important Fish in the Sea uses ridiculous analogies throughout the book. Such as blaming the pilgrims’ “Calvinist ideology” for today’s commercial menhaden industry. These absurdities, along with others, make it hard to take the author seriously.

    12) The Most Important Fish in the Sea argues that “most of.. [the menhaden] catch consists of juveniles that have not reached the spawning age of three years.” However, highly respected and reputable state, federal, and university scientists with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has declared that the majority of Atlantic menhaden are sexually reproductive before they reach age 3.

    The publication is also full of general attacks on the Industry

    1) Sport fishermen are well-funded and politically connected. On weekends, they want to catch the fish that eat menhaden rather then let the menhaden fishermen earn a living.

    2) The sport fishermen clearly believe that one man’s hobby is more important than another man’s livelihood. This is just wrong.

    3) A study commissioned by the American Sportfishing Association and other like-minded organizations found that: “The economic value of the menhaden reduction fishery is being eclipsed by the recreational fishery for species that rely on menhaden as a food source.” Again, a profitable hobby should trump someone’s livelihood?

    4) Sport fishermen should respect that the commercial menhaden industry has just as much right to fish as they do.

    5) If the sport fishermen were so concerned with the health of the public’s coastal waters, how come they have not offered to reduce their take of fish like stripped bass and bluefish (which are both considered overfished)?

    6) Menhaden populations are not the only factors determining the health of the stripped bass in the Chesapeake Bay. There are many factors, such as the abundance of other prey like bay anchovy, recruitment and survival of juvenile fish, salinity, water temperature and other environmental factors.

    7) There is no scientific proof that more menhaden would increase the stocks of other species. In fact, The Atlantic Menhaden Interstate Fisheries Management Plan states: “No studies have shown that the menhaden purse seine fishery has any significant biological effect on any other species or fishery. Yet, conflicts have developed from misconceptions concerning the competition and lack of acceptance of scientific evidence demonstrated by many years of research.”

    8) Commercial watermen depend on sustainable menhaden populations to remain in business. This is why the industry willingly works with researchers to study menhaden populations and has taken several voluntary steps to ensure the future sustainability of this resource and the ecosystems in which they thrive.

    Mr Torgan-- I would suggest next time that you do some background checks on the facts of the matter before you are so quick to try to score cheap political points with enviros.

  2. Dear Menhaden qui tam-

    Thanks for your comments. All views are welcome here. We're not trying to score cheap political points- this is a lively public debate, and the commercial lobstermen and fishermen came to the talk and engaged in the discussion with Dr. Franklin. I thought it was worthwhile. JT