Impact Travel: Welcome To My Apocalypse Series! Along Bruce Ariss Way in Monterey, an interpretive tour tells another apocalyptic story. You might remember my post, After Apocalypse, What? about the end of the elephant seal world around San Simeon. Something similar happened in Monterey as well.
For thousands of years before the Europeans came to the Pacific Coast in 1602, the Rumsien people fished Monterey Bay. They caught sea otters, sea lions and seals for food, used their pelts for blankets and traded seal-made capes.
As hunter gatherers, the Rumsien had no metal, wove no cloth, made no pottery and grew no crops. They used the natural materials at hand to build temporary dwellings and boats, created tools for fishing and hunting, and crafted baskets used for hauling, storing and cooking.
Starting with the California Gold Rush, Portuguese whalers caught these great mammals while they migrated along the Monterey coastline. Once harpooned, the whales were towed back to the beach and their blubber removed and boiled to extract oil for use in lamps. But their whaling ended in the late 1800s when kerosene was discovered and provided a more economical way of lighting a room. And that’s not all…
Meanwhile, The Chinese Were Here Too
A Chinese fishing village at China Point (circa 1853-1906), now Hopkins Marine Station, was the second largest Chinese settlement on the West Coast. It was destroyed by fire in 1906, so the Chinese villagers built a smaller settlement until the late 1920s. The Chinese fishing village grew and spread out along the rocky Monterey coastline as the sardine industry grew.
Then, Technology Turns Monterey Into A Boom Town: The Fish Hoppers
In 1927 cannery owner and fishing industry innovator from Norway, Knut Hovden, introduced new technologies to increase the catch and expedite the transfer of fish to the production line. The archaic bucket-and-cable transfer method could not accommodate the larger catches, so Hovden devised a system of floating wooden hoppers. The hoppers were anchored to the seabed and connected to the canneries by underwater steel pipes. Marine pumps literally sucked the sardines into the canneries for processing or storage in concrete holding tanks.
The hoppers were built at the Monterey Boat Works and placed about 500 feet offshore from their respective canneries.
The Japanese Community
While the majority of Monterey’s commercial fishermen in the 1930s were Sicilian, about 10 percent of the fleet were Japanese nationals, some of whom had been fishing the bay since 1900. These Issei-first generation Japanese0-came as single men from the Inland Sea coast of Honshu. In the early days of the canning industry, the Issei were the principal suppliers of abalone and salmon. Ineligible for American citizenship, they encountered increasing social and regulatory discrinimation. Many relocated to southern California. Some who remained formed cooperatives, fishing with half-ring and purse seiner boats, and earning wages based on shares of the catch.
The sardine season in Monterey ran from August to February and ranged from the Big Sur coast ot San Francisco. The Issei fished at night, when they could see the phosphorescent glimmers on the schools of fishes below the water’s surface. Since bright light prevented them from seeing those glimmers, they didn’t fish during the full moon. A number of Monterey Japanese were Presbyterians and formed their own church in 1925.
Active participation in the Monterey fishing industry ended for the Japanese at the outset of WWII, when their boats were impounded and they were forcibly relocated to internment camps for the duration of the conflict.
The Spanish Community
During World War I and the decade that followed, much of the workforce in the developing sardine industry along Cannery Row was made up of Spanish immigrants, who had fled crushing poverty at home. Many single men sailed form the port of Malaga in southern Sapin, stopping at the Hawaiian Islands to work as contract laborers before reaching California.
The first Spanish migrant generation established a pattern of movement between Monterey and the Santa Calara valley, where they harvested fruit and pruned orchards betwen fishing seasons. In the canneries, a Spanish migrant might work as the boilerman, as box-makers and can-catchers. They helped sardine production grow to 1,400,000 cases by 1918.
In their limited free time, single men smoked hand-rolled cigarettes of Tobacco de la Libre, read the Spanish newspaper La Prensa and conversed with their countrymen. They played the songs of their homeland on guitars and mandolins while sharing the muscatel wine that was produced in neighborhood garages.
The Filipino Community
Filipinos were attracted in large numbers to California after the 1924 Immigration Act excluded the Japanese, who had been a major part of the state’s agricultural labor force. By 1930, as many as 35,000 single, male Filipino laborers were working in California’s fields, hotels, restaurants and private homes. During WWII, a number of Filipinos from the island of Luzon, north of Manila, worked in the canneries and reduction plants. When Filipino laborers weren’t operating screw-cookers, rotary kilns or grinders, they might be found playing cards with friends or socializing in one of the Monterey Chinatown flower-dancing clubs. The Salinas-based newspaper Philippines Mail reported on life in the larger Filipino community.
Work In The Canneries
Work in the canneries was dirty and hard, cold and wet, and the smell was terrible-but it was the smell of prosperity. At least a half-dozen languages could be heard over the din of canning machinery. The men operated and maintained the equipment and warehoused and shipped the finished product. The women worked the packing lines, filling Cannery Row’s trademark one-pound oval cans with sardines and salmon. Until the formation of the Cannery Workers Union in 1936, wages averaged 25 cents per hour.
By the 1930s, huge boats brought in hundreds of tons of fish everyday. Fishermen were catching more sardines than people wanted to eat so many sardines that canneries started grinding them into fertilizer and feed for chickens and cows. With such abundance, there seemed to be no limit to the silvery billions of sardines.
But in the late 1940s, the silvery billions of sardines disappeared. By 1945, fishermen were catching 250,000 tons of sardines a year. Canneries on the row were planning to expand to process even more fish. Then the sardines virtually disappeared. By 1960, almost all the canneries had closed. The apocalypse had happened.
Now, Monterey Bay is one of the largest marine sanctuaries in the nation, a stretch of ocean that runs from San Francisco to San Simeon. It also has an impressive aquarium, the highlight of any Monterey visit (but expensive as hell).
**The information for this post is directly taken from the placards placed along Bruce Ariss Way and other placards along the Cannery Row walking tour. Unfortunately, no writer is named or foundation that provided the information. If you know who funded these historical walk placards, please let me know. I’d like to give you credit for creating such a lovely and meaningful tour!