Daily Bible Verse

February 10, 2011

Save the Most Important Fish in the Sea

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A reprint from

Click the link to read the article on The Public Trust Project website.
Save the Most Important Fish in the Sea

January 20 2011
Alison Fairbrother

The Menhaden is a small forage fish whose significance to our planet is remarkably disproportionate to its tiny size. Known as “the most important fish in the sea,” menhaden filter our waters and provide forage for the majority of the fish species that flourish along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

But the most important fish in the sea is in danger of disappearing.

The systematic slaughter of menhaden is the industrial fisheries’ best-kept secret. Menhaden are the principal fish caught along the Atlantic coast, exceeding the tonnage of all other species combined.

Millions of pounds of menhaden are removed annually from our waters by Omega Protein, a company that grinds up menhaden to sell as fish meal and pet food. The population of Atlantic Menhaden has been reduced to a devastatingly low number.

Scientists are seeing troubling patterns emerge as a result of the loss, including severely malnourished species of saltwater fish that normally feed on them. Striped bass, tuna, cod, bluefish, swordfish, salmon, redfish, mahi mahi, king mackerel, and many other species depend on menhaden for food.

Menhaden themselves are at the bottom of the food chain, feeding on phytoplankton, and filtering huge amounts of algae, nitrogen, and plant detritus from our estuaries. They clean our waters at an incredible rate—some scientists have put the figure as high as four gallons a minute per adult fish!

In sum, menhaden are a keystone species. But they have been consistently overfished for more than a century. Menhaden used to teem in our waters, shoals of them 40 miles long and two miles wide, from the surface to the sea-bed. The menhaden was the fish Squanto taught the Pilgrims to plant with corn in the 17th century. Menhaden was used to fertilize our depleted soils the century after. Eventually menhaden supplemented whaling and whale oil when that fishery was depleted (for the most part) by the 1880s.

But it wasn’t until decades of industrial fishing at the hands of Omega Protein that the menhaden population became decimated as an industrialized product used as fertilizer and animal feed.

Omega Protein maintains that the public can’t do without what they supply — that our cat food costs will go through the roof, that our chickens would cost an arm and a leg, and that we would have no fish oil pills to pop. But all menhaden do is save us pennies. Other commodities, such as soybeans and waste products from the processing of oily fish food can provide what menhaden offer.

The ecosystem services that the menhaden provide to our waters are fundamental and irreplaceable. Saving the menhaden means filtering our estuaries—currently laden with algae blooms and dead zones—and making strides toward restoring our cod, striped bass, salmon, and tuna fisheries.

Lets get involved!
Till next time....
Tight lines!
Johnny and Donna