Ecosystem Collapse: Most Important Fish You’ll Never See?

Tecosystem collapsehere were billions of Menhaden running from Nova Scotia to Maine, down the East Coast and all around the Florida Panhandle over 150 years ago, and 100 different companies processing them to replace whale fat. While considerably smaller today at around 12″ per adult fish, each Menhaden filters four gallons of water a minute at the lowest estimate, 7 gallons at the highest. Clean water is important, but even more so is the staving off of an ecosystem collapse.

Menhaden eat algae (phytoplankton) which prevents algal blooms. We know algal blooms causes dead zones in bodies of water.  Getting sunlight to beneficial plants at the bottom of the ocean to receive those life-giving properties is another outcome of Menhaden’s clean-up job. As Menhaden eat the algae they become rich with omega 3 fatty acids and are a fine and tasty meal for dozens of fish we eat, and several species of birds. And it’s because of the Omega 3s that their fate seems sealed – industry is hungry for cheap sources of Omega 3s for vitamins, cosmetics and other items.

H. Bruce Franklin, noted cultural historian and Professor at Rutgers, joins us today and relates a little history, a little culture, and a lot about the impact on the future of the fish we eat and the water we fish from and drink. The Professor said there is one hope. The thing about Menhaden, he said, is their fecundity – they spawn all over the place and the numbers are a protection, at least until they start schooling. If we give them a chance, they’ll come back. That is a very big “if.” They need Federal protection. You can see more of Professor Franklin’s work at his home page. Enjoy the interview. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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  1. […] The Most Important Fish in the Sea, by historian and author H. Bruce Franklin of Rutgers University, discusses the integral ties between the menhaden fishery, American society, and marine ecosystem health.  Menhaden is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are used by humans in everything from animal feed to health supplements.  However, they are also a forage fish, essential prey for marine animals and sea birds, and filter feeders, improving water quality and keeping phytoplankton populations under control.  There are no federal regulations on the menhaden fishery, and their populations have thus been severely diminished by the industries that use omega-3 fatty acids.  The negative effects of menhaden decline have cascaded up the food chain to their predators as well as down to the plankton on which they feed and the water they filter. […]