Skipjack Tuna
Albacore Tuna
Bluefin Tuna

• Reportedly the failure of historic sardine runs off southern California in 1903, coupled with an experimental pack of 700 cases of albacore tuna, led to the development of the US tuna canning industry. Erratic supplies of albacore precipitated southward expansion of the fledgling tuna fishery to subtropical waters of Baja California and Mexico, which resulted initially in catches of bluefin tuna, then as fishing expanded, yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack tunas.

• Fishery landmarks include the introduction of the first two tuna clippers in 1924, large baitboats over 100 feet in length; development of brine refrigeration in the late 1930s; evolution of light-weight nylon net in 1954 to replace the cumbersome old-style cotton nets; and introduction of the power block at about the same time. These innovations precipitated the rapid conversion of baitboats to the more efficient catching power of purse seiners. From 1954-1962, 97 tuna clippers converted to seiners. By 1976, the tuna fleet consisted of 141 purse seine vessels over 100-ton capacity (not including “local” wetfish boats). The development of the purse seine liberated the tuna fleet to search for fish far offshore.

• The US Pacific tuna fleet based in southern California developed to legendary proportions through decades of enterprise. At its peak, the tuna fishery involved more than 2,000 fishermen, whose catch provided work for 10,000 or more additional employees in canneries, boat building and repair facilities.

• In the post World War II era, San Diego was known as the tuna capital of the world, with six canneries in operation, in addition to canneries in Los Angeles / Terminal Island, Monterey and San Francisco, many of which also canned tuna.

• Beginning in the early 1980s, the major canneries in southern California decided to close their California plants, and the once mighty tuna fleet also departed in large part. Reasons for their departure are many, including:
– In 1984 the International Trade Commission denied relief to US canners, who could not compete with mushrooming imports of low-priced water-packed tuna, primarily from Thailand. Congress also failed to act in support of the domestic tuna industry. Canneries thus moved offshore to reduce their
operating costs.
– Increasingly strict marine mammal protection laws restricted the US tuna fleet.
– Mexico declared a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and in the 1990 reauthorization of the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, the US removed its former exemption for highly migratory species, in effect recognizing coastal state juristiction over tunas and other migratory stocks. This action “officially” closed Mexican waters to the tuna and coastal wetfish fleets.

• In 1990, led by StarKist’s parent company, H.J. Heinz, US canneries initiated a “dolphin safe” policy, declining to buy tuna harvested in association with dolphins. This policy drove many purse seiners to the western Pacific. As a result, the US fleet that operated in the eastern Pacific decreased from 141 purse seiners in 1976 to 9 in 1999. (Coan, NMFS. 2001)

• Today, following tradition, some California purse seine vessels, particularly those home-ported in southern California, harvest coastal tunas during summertime as part of an annual round of fishing. Vessels fishing tuna in the eastern Pacific must abide by all federal and state regulations, including those proposed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), and any other international regulatory agency in which the US is a member.