The Most Important Fish in the Sea Menhaden and America
by Bruce Franklin
Edition: 1st., 2007
Not one of these fish is destined for a supermarket, a canning factory, or a restaurant. Menhaden are oily, foul smelling, and packed with tiny bones. No one eats them—not directly, anyhow. Hardly anyone has even heard of them except for those who fish or study our eastern and southern salt waters. Yet menhaden are the principal fish caught along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, exceeding the tonnage of all other species combined.
Almost all of these fish are caught by Omega Protein, which has a nearly total monopoly on what is known as the menhaden reduction industry. Omega’s fleet of sixty-one ships and thirty-two spotter planes
annually captures billions of menhaden. At the company’s five production facilities in Virginia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, these hundreds of thousands of tons of fish are converted into industrial commodities— hence the term “reduction.” The menhaden are “reduced” into oil, solids, and meal. The oil from their bodies is pressed out for use in cosmetics, linoleum, health food supplements, lubricants, margarine, soap, insecticide, and paints. Their dried-out carcasses are then pulverized, scooped into huge piles, containerized, and shipped out as feed for domestic cats and dogs, farmed fish, and, most of all, poultry and pigs.