Thursday, January 12, 2012
Tuna Crews That Fished to Fame Cited : Glory Days Recalled, Demise Is Lamented at Statue's Unveiling
October 27, 1986|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer
The men who worked and died to make San Diego the once-thriving hub of tuna fishing were remembered Sunday, as the Tunaman's Memorial Statue was unveiled in a ceremony tinged with regret over the decline of the Southern California tuna industry.
From the 1940s, when San Diego was home port to nearly 300 tuna vessels and site of six canneries, the city's share of the industry has shrunk to perhaps 60 vessels because of foreign competition founded on cheap labor. The last San Diego cannery closed in 1984.
Now, with the exception of a single cannery in San Pedro, American tuna canning is based in Puerto Rico and American Samoa. San Diego is a stopping point on the way to San Pedro, a place where tuna seiners come in for repairs, said August Felando, president of the American Tuna Boat Assn.
But the Portuguese Historical Center, and particularly the late tuna boat captain Anthony Mascarenhas, were determined that the city's 85-year-old connection with the tuna industry would not be forgotten.
The monument "was born out of the idea that the tuna men should be remembered for their contribution to San Diego and the world," said Jose Alves, president of the center. Erected south of the fishing pier on Shelter Island, the 16-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts Portuguese, Italian and Japanese tuna men reeling in a "three-man fish"--a tuna big enough to require the work of all three, said sculptor Franco Vianello.
Mascarenhas led the five-year drive to raise $100,000 to build the monument and the fight to find it a site. He died last year, shortly before the sculpture was completed, Alves said.
According to Felando, San Diego tuna men in the early part of the century expanded tuna fishing into the South Pacific and later the Atlantic. During World War II, 49 vessels became part of the U.S. Navy, "participating in every major naval campaign in the Pacific," with the loss of 21 boats, he said.
After the war, when the development of "purse seine" or net fishing replaced the old rod-and-reel technique, the development here of huge, sleek "seiners" revolutionized the field and was copied around the world, Felando said.
But cheap foreign labor and U.S. tariff policies soon hurt American tuna fishing, and the exodus from Southern California began, despite the fact that today world tuna consumption is as strong as ever, Felando said.
Sunday, Mascarenhas' wife, Rita, laid a wreath on the monument and his sons, Leonard and Michael, threw one into the bay to commemorate dead tuna men.
"This memorial will mean many things to many people," Felando said. "Some will recall the men who were lost, the boats (that were) lost." Others will remember the tuna men's "strength, vitality and willingness to take a risk," he said.