“January 1, 1946,” writes August J. Felando, “can be considered a starting date for the final era of the tuna clipper fleet. The foreseeable future excited fishermen, war veterans, shipyards, and investors with promises of economic growth, security, and new wealth.”
Where, specifically? Well, as the saying goes, “fish got tails.” Quirky and unpredictable, tuna go where they go like stampeding broncos. They bite from dawn to sundown. A tuna boat works those hours, often nonstop, and more.
Most San Diego tuna clippers are owned and operated by Portuguese or Italian families. No one works for a wage. Each receives a share of the catch, which makes the effort doubly personal and justifies the toil and danger.
Newcomers learn early that tuna fishing is not an MGM pirate movie. Errol Flynn won’t swoop down from the yardarm, teeth agleam, to rescue someone swept overboard. French horns or frantic violins won’t endorse your every move. And little will fall neatly into place. No two trips are alike. You’re a speck in a seemingly infinite, endlessly unpredictable ocean. But, some say with teeth slightly agleam, that’s the adventure. ■
Next time: Let’s Catch Us Some Tuna!
- 1. Don Estes: “Kondo [Masaharu] was the catalyst who brought the men and their personal skills together at the right place and time to set in motion…a whole new industry.”
- 2. Edward Soltesz: “People would get hurt…the only time anyone could take pictures was when they were hurt and couldn’t perform in the rack.”
- 3. August J. Felando: “Though its economic crisis was not foreseen by the California tuna industry in 1946, the government had already introduced policies that would cause future tuna trade problems for the entire industry.”
- Crane, Edgar E., West Coast Fisheries, 1931.
- Estes, Don, “Kondo Masaharu and the Best of All Fishermen,” Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1977, vol. 23, number 3.
- Felando, August, and Harold Medina, “The Origins of California’s High-Seas Tuna Fleet,” Journal of San Diego History, Winter/Spring 2012, vol. 28, numbers 1 and 2; Felando, “California’s Tuna Clipper Fleet: 1918–1963,” Mains’l Haul, 1996, 1997, vols. 32 and 33, numbers 4, 1, and 3.
- McCloskey, Jr., William B., Highliners, New York, 1979.
- Orbach, Michael K., Hunters, Seamen, and Entrepreneurs: The Tuna Seinermen of San Diego, Berkeley, 1977.
- Smith, Andrew F., American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food, Berkeley, 2012.
- Soltesz, Edward S., “Pole Fishing for Tuna, 1937–1941: An Interview with Edward S. Soltesz,” Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1991, vol. 37, number 3.
- Zolezzi, Julius H., and Lawrence D. Bradley, Jr., “The Story of the San Diego Tuna Fleet,” Mains’l Haul, Winter/Spring 2008, vol. 44, numbers 1 and 2; interview.
Part 2: Let's catch us some tuna | Part 3: The Lone Wolf hits a royal flush | Part 4: Beauty goin' down