This is the story of The Most Important Fish in the Sea.
You have been relying on a fish you have never heard of. When you eat chicken or turkey. When you eat BBQ. When you smell your cat’s fishy breath.
Over 1/3 of the fish caught off the Atlantic shore are Menhaden. I used to catch them at the beach in nets. They were known as “trash fish,” which we tossed back because they are so bony you can’t eat them. But they are caught in huge quantities for industrial-scale animal feed, fertilizer, and pet food.
As H. Bruce Franklin details in his pithy, colorful book, these fish were once so plentiful that they filtered the water of the Cheasapeake and lesser bays by feeding on plankton. They are the base of a massive food chain, which has been disrupted by factory ships seeking the cheapest protein to feed other industries. But populations are so depleted that only one factory fleet remains, operating out of Virginia.
If you have access to a chicken that eats bugs instead of feed, or a turkey that foraged, or see a cat actually catch a mouse and eat it, then you catch a glimpse of the world as it was for eons, before we figured out how to catch menhaden by hundreds of thousands of tons per year.