Today’s industry is streamlined: although there are fewer boats, and many in the wetfish fleet have fished for decades, fishing gear is more efficient now; fishing crews are smaller. Processing facilities operate under strict sanitary rules (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point--HACCP) mandated by the federal government.
Government action and inaction have played a major role in shaping the course of the wetfish industry. From the military procurement policy during World War I to current proposals for federal and state marine reserves that seek to curtail fishing, the fishermen and fish processors of California have been the beneficiaries or victims of the actions – legislative or administrative – or lack of action by local, state and federal governments. For example:
- Federal government procurement policy during World War I spurred the building of a number of canneries in San Pedro and Monterey.
- Federal government action in setting lower tariffs on fish packed in water than on fish packed in oil (rewarding Iceland for supporting US troops during World War II) had the unintended, and perhaps unforeseeable, consequence of allowing foreign tuna processors to export the newly popular water-packed tuna in huge volumes at rock-bottom prices to the US. (Ironically, Thai packers capitalized on a "health-conscious” marketing strategy originally launched by StarKist -- tuna packed in spring water.)
- The failure of the government to correct this inequity was a primary reason US canners shifted production out of California, and perhaps caused the failure of a few.
- State and federal water and air quality laws and regulations increased the economic cost of doing business in California. Meanwhile, local government (e.g. Los Angeles Harbor District) charged fish canneries rent at the same rate as cargo operations, all contributing to the canneries’ unprofitability and ultimate departure.
Federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, increased costs and concerns of vessel owners and led to the relocation or sale of many vessels involved in both wetfish and local tuna fisheries.
The list goes on.
However, the melting-pot culture that infused California along with the immigration of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Slavonian and other nationalities of fishermen still enriches the fishing ports of Monterey and San Pedro, as well as San Diego and San Francisco.
California seas are among the most productive in the world. The wetfish that provided the lion’s share of fishery commerce in the early 1900s still represents the bulk of the California catch today.
Today, much of that catch is exported around the world. Indeed, today California’s wetfish industry fills another critical economic role, helping to offset the US trade deficit, for seafood is the second largest commodity deficit, after oil, in the United States.