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Point 3 - Marcella Boat Exhibit, Fishing & Fisheries, Aquarium # 1, Public Trust Doctrine

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Point 3Here we have a real "Monterey" style fishing boat -- it's not a replica. It was used when these hoists, or davits, lined the Wharf. During the 1930s, 40s and 50's, boats like this comprised the Santa Cruz fishing fleet. It might seem like a small craft to go out very far on the ocean, but it is very seaworthy. Granted, it wasn't made for comfort; it's a one and two-person work-boat, not a luxury liner. It is a "day boat," meaning it went out for a day's fishing without refrigeration for its catch and returned at nightfall.

The Marcella was donated by Robert Podesto, who still attends to it. The design is centuries old taking its inspiration, according to Robert, from Mediterranean "fellucas" -- that were sailed or rowed. This particular boat was restored after being reclaimed from mud flats in Moss Landing. It was thereafter used by Podesto for half sport/half commercial fishing. This nearby kiosk explains it all in more detail.

At first lowered and raised by block and tackle and elbow grease, the Pelton Water Wheel eventually was employed to save on arms and backs. This particular one was retrieved from the County dump and a working one exists at Wilder Ranch.

This boat typically used hook and line and an arrangement of outrigger poles and fishing leaders strung out behind it as it trolled for salmon. Again, it had no refrigeration and the fishers stored their catch in wet burlap sacks just as the Stagnaro's party boats do now.

Monterey Bay has always been a biologically rich fishing region and the Wharf quickly became a staging area for a commercial fishing fleet. When the Santa Cruz Harbor was built, (you can see the entrance in the distance) the fishing fleet moved over to its protected waters. It could accommodate much larger boats.

One interesting thing about wharves throughout western history is significance in the establishment of Public Trust Doctrine since the days of the Magna Carta. Governments have recognized the importance of wharves to commerce and sustenance. For that reason to this day, for example, you do not need a fishing license to fish from the wharf. If you walk on the beach or get in a boat, you do need a fishing license. This is a direct result of Public Trust Doctrine tradition.

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Fish and Fishing
Monterey Bay is such a biologically rich area partly because of it's location. It receives overlapping volumes of cold nutrient water from the north and warm saltier water from the south. A lot of mixing occurs in the Bay and so there are also overlapping zones of northern water species and southern water species.

Sardines and Cannery Row
Monterey Bay was known for decades for its sardine fishery. Cannery Row in Monterey was the center of the sardine canning industry and was celebrated in literature by author John Steinbeck in his novel, "Cannery Row." The fishery itself eventually "crashed" and the canning industry failed. According to a report by the National Resource Council, it crashed because there were not enough surviving numbers in age classes of the species to reproduce. This resulted from overfishing and two succeeding years of environmentally poor conditions for these fish.

Our local sardine fishery history is a classic case of the plight of most fisheries around the world.

Sardines were ignored or unknown in 1900. But with the First World War and attendant food shortages, the huge population of Monterey Bay sardines were "discovered." Since they cost nothing to produce, like all untouched fish stocks, and they were nearby, a booming fishery developed. By 1920, production was 100,000 tons. The canneries could not even can all the fish. So they started making excess into sardine meal.

According to an historic interview with Malio Stagnaro, found in the Special Collections Department of UC Santa Cruz, most of the profit that was reaped in sardines was not in the canning of sardines for food. Rather, most of the money was made in "meal" for fertilizer.

The catch rose with more boats and more canneries until by 1937, 800,000 tons were produced from the canneries. This was the largest fishery in the entire western hemisphere.

Warning bells soon enough were ringing from concerned biologists, but the velocity of commerce rolled on. Biologists of the time studied fish scales and found that sardines spawn at 3 years of age and can live 15 years or so. They figured most of the catch in the early 1920s was in the 10 year old range. By the 1930s, the fleet was taking mostly 3-4 year old fish.

Another thing learned was occurrence of good years and poor years for spawning, or age class recruitment. Some years are blessed with lots of fish and some are not; nobody knows exactly why, but "environmental conditions" are generally given as the reason.

After 1937, the total yield declined. As so happens in fisheries, more boats were added, as were "longer hours." It didn't help. The catch continued to decline until, by 1948, the total catch was back to 100,000 tons, the same as in the 1920s. This was not enough "biomass" to support the regime of plants, equipment, rents, boats, and last of all, fishermen. So the canning industry collapsed.

A fascinating biological story followed. The anchovy population filled the ecological niche the sardine schools had enjoyed and their numbers (the anchovies) doubled and doubled. Anchovies were never as prevalent as they are today. Now, the anchovies forms the most abundant schooling fish stock on the west coast.

And surprise of surprises, sardines are common again. Around the wharf in spring and summer, schools of them will forage in and you can catch both of them on small-hooked jigs. The sardines and anchovies travel together.

Do you know the difference?

You can tell them apart most easily by looking at their mouths. Anchovies have an "underbite," that is, their lower jaw is shorter than their upper jaw. Sardine jaws are even and the fish also have black spots in a line along their body.

Summer is a great time for catching and learning about fish on the Wharf. The anchovy and sardine schools will forage into the cove here all around the Wharf by the tens of thousands and attract big game fishes like halibut and striped bass and lingcod. Many are caught right here.

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Wharf Aquarium No. 1
Thanks to a grant from the California Resources Agency, the Wharf now hosts in spring through summer months, two portable aquariums. The pilings form a human-made reef system supporting an amazing diversity of marine creatures, from crabs to fish to octopus. Here is one of them located by the Marecella. Fish include perch, rockfish, sculpins, sardines, anchovies, cabezon, lingcod, as well as starfish and shellfish. Come visit this free presentation on weekends and special events.

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Last updated: 6/30/2009 4:47:55 PM