Bee the Sea, Bumble the Chicken
San Diego was once known from the earlier 1920s to mid-70s as the Tuna Capital of the World. Like the weather the East Coast is experiencing this year, many of the San Diego Fishermen started out on the East Coast to then move to San Diego, California to escape the ruthless storms and bitter cold of the North Atlantic Ocean. Canners like Van Camp, Starkist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea made the Tuna processing industry rank third to the Navy and Aircraft Industry with 10, 000 employed, 700 boats with 80% of all American households consuming tuna while adding $30 million to the economy by catching 100 million pounds by 1939.
The Tuna Industry in San Diego was actually started by the Chinese and Japanese in the early 1890s but then became dominated by the Portuguese and Italians in the early 1920’s and up until the late 1980’s. San Diego’s coast became home for the large fishing fleets made up of immigrant Portuguese and Italian fisherman. These cultural influences developed neighborhoods like Little Italy, Point Loma aka: “Tunaville” and Barrio Logan. Point Loma is historically important as the landing place of the first European expedition to come ashore in present-day California. The peninsula has been described as “where California began”. Little Italy is now a scenic neighborhood composed mostly of Italian restaurants, Italian retail shops, home design stores, art galleries, and residential units making it one of the more active downtown neighborhoods and hosts frequent festivals and events including a weekly farmers market.
During World War II when fishing was not possible, 53 tuna boats and about 600 crew members served the U.S. Navy as the “yippie fleet” (so called because of service numbers beginning with YP, for Yard Patrol), delivered food, fuel and supplies to military installations all over the Pacific. Twenty-one of the vessels were lost and dozens of crew members were killed on these hazardous missions.
One of the many hazards of netting tuna has been concerned with saving the porpoise, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. Many times crew members would jump into the net to help a porpoise in trouble out of the net. It is not uncommon for sharks to also be in the net mixed with the tuna as the fisherman jumped into the net to free the porpoise. Today the battle still goes on to keep embargoes on Tuna caught associated with dolphin or porpoise. With Japan offering cheaper tuna after 1950, new technology and Peruvian canneries, regulations, environmental pressure, rising costs and foreign competition the last of the canneries closed or sold out in the early 1980s. Fish is now being packed in Mexico, Australia, Samoa, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Japan, Canada, Spain and many other countries throughout the world.
Still whether you are a local or tourist, some of the best fishing in years has been caught this past season with another upcoming season predicted to be even stronger. San Diego charters like H&M and Sea Forth have trips as short as 1/2 day trips (6 hours) to 36 hour offshore trips. Each trip caters to that season’s bite and what you desire to catch. The 24 hour plus long range trips target Albacore, Yellowtail, Yellowfin Tuna, Bluefin Tuna, Dorado, Sharks, and Marlin during the warmer months. The shorter half day and 3/4 day trips often target San Diego’s Yellowtail, Bonito, Barracuda, or bottom fish such as Ling Cod, Sculpin, Sand Bass, and Halibut. Just outside San Diego Harbor we can find Rock fish, Kelp fish, and many more. Why not get a kid hooked on fishing? During the entire month of May, the San Diego Bay based sportfishing fleet will take kids fishing FOR FREE on any open party ½ day, ¾ day or full day fishing trip when accompanied by a paid adult. Love fish, but not really into fishing? Try some of the best local establishments for the freshest variety of fish and shellfish, straight from the boat to the table restaurants located throughout San Diego, stretching from the Fish Market on the downtown waterfront to the outdoors seating at the Point Loma Seafood Market. Photo of the Tunaman’s Memorial by Franco Vianello above, is located on Shelter Island, Point Loma.