Rutgers Professor’s Battle to Save an Unsung Fish Makes Inroads as States Move to Protect the Species
Atlantic States Fisheries Commission votes to sharply reduce the menhaden harvest
One person really can make a difference. In this case, it was one Rutgers professor, whose four-year fight to save a fish species has finally succeeded, and will have a major impact for the better, both ecological and economic, on the fishing industry along the Atlantic Coast, as well as tourism in New Jersey.
In 2007, Rutgers-Newark Professor H. Bruce Franklin wrote “The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America,” alerting the public to the dangers of the overfishing of menhaden, a small fish that is critically important to the ocean’s ecosystem and the survival of many other fish species.
This month, the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission voted to sharply reduce the menhaden harvest, determining that menhaden had been overfished and needed to rebuild. This action has been hailed in editorials and by advocacy groups such as the Public Trust Project – which, in an email announcement, singled out Franklin for recognition: “And special thanks to H. Bruce Franklin, whose wonderful book The Most Important Fish in the Sea compelled so many of us to take up this fight.”
The protection of the menhaden affects commercial and sports fishing in several states along the Atlantic. Many of the people fighting to save the fish --and many of the articles about the effort – specifically cited Bruce Franklin’s book. Even Fox News featured Franklin in a two-part series on the issue: Fish Oil, Part One and Fish Oil, Part 2.
This was an uphill battle for Franklin and the people trying to save the fish; they had to fight a major Texas company, Omega Protein, which was harvesting thousands of tons of menhaden for use in its products. The company worked hard to block and discredit Franklin, even threatening legal action. But he persisted in taking his cause to the public, through the book, media interviews and even as a source in a documentary.
The Most Important Fish in the Sea is the 19th book that Franklin has authored or edited, and in 2008 it was cited by the American Studies Association when it awarded him its highest prize for "Lifetime Achievement in American Studies."
Franklin, a resident of Montclair, is the John Cotton Dana Professor of American Studies at Rutgers-Newark, where he has taught American literature, science fiction, and American studies since 1975.