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Tunaman's Memorial-Shelter Island
Tunaman's Memorial-Shelter Island

San Diego Tuna Industry History

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Tip of the Week: February 28, 2009


"The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. " - Vincent Van Gogh -

San Diego has many buried treasures. We try to fish out the best and bring them to you each week. Sometimes we net the Big Kahuna and we appreciate all the responses.

We were caught by surprise to learn that San Diego was the big fish in the fishing industry. "Tuna Capitol of the World" is a big claim. At one time, San Diego had the world's largest tuna fleet. It was San Diego's claim to fame from the 1930's-1970's.

Sitting along the seawall at Seaport Village or anywhere along the harbor, it is hard to imagine that such a thriving industry existed. It all started with the Chinese fishermen spearheading San Diego's fishing industry as far back as the 1860's. At the time, the Chinese lived in the southern downtown area called Chinatown and in Roseville in Point Loma. Later, the Italians, Portuguese and Japanese fisherman became part of the growing tuna industry. It was the Portuguese immigrants who took to the tuna industry like fish to water. They were the industry leaders.

The tuna industry was so big that it was represented in a 1968 movie called, Chubasco, which highlighted various San Diego tuna fishing locations. It was the talk of the town with four San Diego theaters showing the film simultaneously upon the release of the film.

The tuna industry was a success - hook, line and sinker. Casting the net wide including everyone connected to the industry, over 40,000 San Diegans were part of the San Diego tuna industry. San Diego was home to Van Camp Seafood Company, Starkist Foods, Westgate California, Bumble Bee Seafood, Pan Pacific and smaller local tuna processors. At the time, the San Diego tuna industry reeled in $30 million per year putting it just behind the the Navy and aircraft industry as a huge revenue generator for the San Diego economy.

The canneries and fishermen were crushed by changes in the industry starting in the 1970's. Localized fishing felt the tightening of the net as business started moving to foreign waters. The cost of business along with the strident dolphin-safe regulations of the late 80's, dealt a fatal blow to the local tuna industry. The fisherman and canneries had no choice but to cut bait. Many lost it all in the process.

Just to the north of Seaport Village is Tuna Harbor. Since 1911, it has been dedicated to commercial fishing. Today, the number of working tuna boats in Tuna Harbor is dramatically less than the 200 boats that once docked in her waters. Still, these few boats still provide freshly caught seafood to local establishments.
Tuna Harbor
Tuna Harbor

The tuna fisherman gave their blood, sweat and tears to San Diego and the San Diego economy. Their hard work paved the way for immigrant families throughout San Diego. Back in 1988, the Tunaman's Memorial was installed on Shelter Island. The beautiful sculpture is inscribed with the words: "Tunaman's Memorial honoring those that built an industry and remembering those that departed this harbor in the sun and did not return." - Anthony Mascarenhas

If you'd like to support a local tuna fishing business, check out American Tuna. They sell to Whole Foods and others. Support local business, support American fishermen.

Tunaman's Memorial-Shelter Island

·  Hubbell is Not Just a Telescope
·  San Diego Veterans Memorials
·  USS Midway All Access
·  The Friendship Bell at Shelter Island
·  Unconditional Surrender in San Diego
·  Port of San Diego Working Waterfront
·  Shelter Island and Point Loma Restaurants
·  San Diego Scenic Drive
·  Movies from the 1960s Filmed in San Diego

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