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American Tuna

The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food

Andrew F. Smith (Author)

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In a lively account of the American tuna industry over the past century, celebrated food writer and scholar Andrew F. Smith relates how tuna went from being sold primarily as a fertilizer to becoming the most commonly consumed fish in the country. In American Tuna, the so-called “chicken of the sea” is both the subject and the backdrop for other facets of American history: U.S. foreign policy, immigration and environmental politics, and dietary trends.

Smith recounts how tuna became a popular low-cost high-protein food beginning in 1903, when the first can rolled off the assembly line. By 1918, skyrocketing sales made it one of America’s most popular seafoods. In the decades that followed, the American tuna industry employed thousands, yet at at mid-century production started to fade. Concerns about toxic levels of methylmercury, by-catch issues, and over-harvesting all contributed to the demise of the industry today, when only three major canned tuna brands exist in the United States, all foreign owned. A remarkable cast of characters— fishermen, advertisers, immigrants, epicures, and environmentalists, among many others—populate this fascinating chronicle of American tastes and the forces that influence them.
Preface
Acknowledgments
Prologue

Part I. The Rise
1. Angling for a Big Fish
2. Looks Like Chicken
3. Enemy Aliens
4. This Delicious Fish
5. Caucasians Who Have Tasted and Liked This Speciality

Part II. The Fall
6. Foreign Tuna
7. Tuna Wars
8. Porpoise Fishing
9. Parts Per Million

Epilogue
Appendix: Historical Tuna Recipes
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Andrew F. Smith teaches Food Studies at the New School University in New York. He is the author of Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat, Potato: A Global History, and Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, among many other books. For more information, please visit www.andrewfsmith.com.
“In language as clear as cold water, Mr. Smith chronicles the industry's great canneries, corporate battles and price wars . . . as well as the injustice suffered by Japanese-American tuna fisherman interned during World War II. In the end, tuna is the story of America told another way.”—Wall Street Journal
“A well-researched, highly readable account of an important part of the US food culture and business. Highly recommended.”—Choice
“Chock full of history, TUNA is an unexpectedly fascinating read. The appendix is full of historical recipes, and the facts are a gastronomic feast for foodies.”—Food Industry News
“Andrew F. Smith chronicles tuna's transformation from immigrant gruel to the most commonly consumed fish in the country in the entertaining American Tuna. . . . Smith's thoroughly researched history forces us to consider the larger picture of how consumption affects the renewability of food sources and how economic power can damage more than sustain. If American Tuna stimulates a broader discussion on the problems of food production as a whole, Smith will have achieved a major victory.”—Shelf Awareness For Readers
“Soul food, Hakka style. . . . While the Hakka food memoir incorporates classic, traditional flavors, it also embraces current, trendy cooking techniques.”—The Blue Lifestyle
“Tuna are fast swimmers, but their journey into the heart of American culture and cuisine has been long and circuitous. With authority and grace, Andrew Smith charts the course of these big, beautiful, fearsome-looking creatures to our shores, from early disrepute to lunchbox ubiquity to gastronomic reverence and off into the cold, dark waters of near extinction. His fish tale is compelling, informative, and ultimately as meaty as his subject.” — Colman Andrews, Editorial Director of TheDailyMeal.com

"In American Tuna, Andrew Smith poses, and answers, a provocative series of question on the history, life, and environment of this most magnificent fish. A compelling and timely read." — Anne Willan, author of The Cookbook Library and The Country Cooking of France

“The indefatigable and prolific Andrew Smith has caught a big one this time. In this lively social history he shows us why the regal blue fin captured the appetite and imagination of 20th century America in the way that the royal cod captured the colonial imagination. More please!" — Molly O’Neill, author of One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking

“Tuna is not only America’s favorite fish, but an all-American champion food. How that came to be, how the tuna industry rose from being a local ethnic industry to a food giant, how that impacted the fish, their ecology and very survival, is the subject of this excellent and highly readable study by Andrew F. Smith. It is, literally, just about everything you want to know when opening a can to make a tuna salad sandwich. “ — Bruce Kraig, author of Hot Dog: A Global History

“From the master of the single subject food book comes another work, destined to become a classic. Smith has an uncanny ability to trace the changing fortune of an ingredient, following the vicissitudes of fate and fashion and turning it into a great story – a fisherman’s tale in this case, though with no exaggeration. Expect surprises at every turn, as Smith hauls in this huge subject.” — Ken Albala, author of Beans: A History

1

Angling for a Big Fish

Charles Holder, an East Coast naturalist, first visited Santa Catalina Island, off the Southern California coast, in 1886. Hoping to catch one of the large tuna known to frequent the island's shores during the summer months, he brought along his freshwater rod and reel. There were plenty of fishermen on the island, and they caught plenty of tuna, but they did so using thick hand-lines with multiple hooks. They tied the lines to boats or piers and dropped them into the water. When fish hit the hooks, the fishermen waited until they were exhausted fighting against the line, and then just pulled them in, which usually took a few minutes. Holder proclaimed this method to be unsportsmanlike; he believed that rods and reels gave the fish a fighting chance.

In Catalina, Holder met José Felice Presiado ("Mexican Joe"), the only professional boatman on the island at the time. Presiado had arrived in Catalina at the age of seven from Sonora, Mexico, about 1851. By the 1880s he owned a broad-beamed yawl that he used to take fishermen around the island. Holder hired Presiado to row him to places where he could fish with his rod and reel. Holder and Presiado encountered a school of "leaping tuna," as Holder called them. The tuna weren't leaping out of the water for the fun of it. They were chasing flying fish that jumped into the air as they tried to escape the pursuing tuna. Flying fish have large pectoral fins that allow them to glide more than 150 feet over the surface of the water. The much heavier and less aerodynamic tuna could leap 10 to 15 feet in the air before crashing back into the ocean. Holder vividly described the scene: "Down the Santa Catalina channel they came like a cyclone, turning the quiet waters into foam, in and out of which the big fishes darted like animated arrows or torpedoes, while the air was filled with flocks of flying fishes fleeing in every direction like grasshoppers." Holder and Mexican Joe followed the school for several miles, and Holder cast into the leaping tuna with his rod and reel. He lost every line he cast and didn't catch a fish. This came as no surprise to Presiado, who couldn't imagine why Holder-or anyone else for that matter-would want to catch tuna with a rod and reel; fishermen using hand lines always caught as many as they wanted with very little effort.

Holder's initial failure did not discourage him. He came back season after season, and he even convinced others to go after tuna with rods and reels. Despite all the skill of some of the world's best and most experienced anglers, the results were always the same: the tuna inevitably won, breaking fish lines, often absconding with the rods and reels and occasionally pulling fishermen overboard, as the tuna swam off into the channel.

In 1898, Holder acquired the latest fishing gear with a stronger rod and reel. This worked. He finally succeeded in his twelve-year quest when he landed a 183-pound tuna on June 1. Two weeks later he convened a meeting of sportfishermen at the Hotel Metropole in Avalon, Catalina's largest community. These men, who enjoyed the challenge of fishing for tuna with rod and reel, created the Tuna Club, thereby inventing American saltwater sportfishing. The exploits of sportfishermen and some women alerted the American public to this most unusual fish, and consequently, the largely unknown tuna fish would soon be upgraded from a trash fish to an aquatic celebrity in the American imagination.

Fish with Character

Catalina's Tuna Club was not the first fishing club in America. Sportfishing, an upper-class British tradition brought to America in colonial times, developed a broader social base in nineteenth-century America as railroads made once-remote streams, rivers, and lakes more accessible. Accompanying these shifts were changing views toward nature, a recognition of the disappearance of the natural wonders of America, and an increasing yearning to preserve wilderness areas. As America urbanized in the nineteenth century, many well-to-do Americans took up outdoor leisure activities, such as camping, hunting, and fishing. After the Civil War many Americans began to enjoy sportfishing.

Sportfishing differed considerably from traditional commercial or subsistence fishing where the most efficient methods-hand lines, nets, spears, guns, or on occasion dynamite-were employed to acquire as many fish as possible in the shortest period of time to generate the maximum amount of money with the least effort. Sportfishing was a leisure activity with a very different mind-set. It required a set of gentlemanly practices designed to pit the fisherman's skill against a cunning fish. Fishing clubs, such as the Schuylkill Fishing Company in Philadelphia, were organized to provide upper-class men with an escape from their everyday world. By the early nineteenth century, angling clubs had emerged in many American cities. The purpose of these clubs was primarily social, with a little fishing on the side (although not always with a rod and reel). From these upper-class clubs evolved organizations that would establish the rules for angling using hooks, lines, flies, lures, rods, and reels. As the century progressed, American manufacturers began making and marketing proper fishing gear that had formerly been imported from England. By the end of the century, magazines such as Forest and Stream and American Angler, and more than 100 books, exalted the art of freshwater sportfishing.

Angling clubs, fishing magazines, and sportfishing books promoted particular methods of fishing and a code of proper conduct for fishermen. Particular fish, especially those with "character" that could put up a fight, were identified as "game" fish. Anglers were encouraged to catch them, while other fish were classified as "rough" or "coarse," and not worth a genteel angler's time. These methods and guidelines helped distinguish upper- and middle-class anglers from the subsistence or working-class fishermen, as well as reducing the sportfishing catch and helping to prevent depletion of fish populations. In many states, laws were passed to regulate fishing-shooting fish, dynamiting ponds, and using nets for fishing became illegal. Licenses were required, and other restrictions were developed. These rules and regulations applied to freshwater fishing in inland lakes and streams, and not to ocean fishing, which remained a commercial activity.

State governments showed an interest in fisheries after the Civil War. Massachusetts became the first state to establish a commission on fish, in 1865, and several other states followed. It wasn't until 1871 that the federal government began to regulate freshwater fishing, but at the time no one considered saltwater fishing a sport.

A Very Gamy Fish

Some nineteenth-century sportsmen did fish for tuna. As Dr. Pierre Fortin, the Canadian magistrate for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, observed, fishing for tuna was "quite exciting, although tiresome and requiring a good deal of skill, as in the efforts of these fish to escape they pull with such violence as to endanger the lives of the fishermen by dragging them overboard." The few fishermen who were interested in catching tuna employed baited hand-lines with multiple hooks connected by small ropes attached firmly to their boats or docks. When the tuna took the bait, the fishermen just let the fish struggle until exhausted, and then easily hauled them in.

Tuna was common off New Brunswick, Canada, reported an observer in 1844, but it was "rarely taken, because its flesh is not prized for food." In the same year, British visitor Philip Tocque was surprised to find that few fishermen in Newfoundland were aware that tuna "constitutes a sumptuous article of food, or that it is even fit to eat." Off Cape Cod, bluefin were common during the summer months, and large fish were occasionally harpooned for oil: an average-sized tuna yielded about twenty-four gallons. Fish oil was used primarily for commercial purposes, such as making soapand paints and tanning hides.

In the 1870s, Congress approved budgets that included a study of saltwater fish in American coastal waters. Spencer Fullerton Baird, the commissioner of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries, asked David Starr Jordan, one of the foremost naturalists of the day and then a professor at Indiana University, to conduct a study of the Pacific coast fisheries. Jordan selected one of his brightest students, Charles H. Gilbert, to assist him in this investigation. They surveyed the West Coast from British Columbia to Baja California. Virtually the entire survey was conducted within a few miles of shore, as their small boats were "too frail to face the dangers of the open sea," as Jordan later put it. Jordan and Gilbert did not locate any tuna, which they expected to find near San Clemente Island, off the coast of Southern California, but they did find albacore, then scientifically considered a genus separate from tuna. Albacore, they pointed out in their report, was caught chiefly for sport, and it was "little valued as a food-fish" as it was "a very gamy fish." Large fish sold for about twenty-five cents apiece.

At the time of their visit, West Coast fishing was conducted by a wild collection of fishermen, whose vessels included "Chinese junks, lateen-rigged Italian boats and New England whale boats." Some did fish for tuna, but they were recently arrived immigrants, especially from Italy, Portugal, Japan, and the Azores, who had eaten tuna in their homelands. In San Diego, some fishermen launched a business, catching, and then salting and pickling albacore, which was abundant in the bay and within a few miles of the coast. It was sold to Japanese immigrant field laborers in California and Hawaii. This business was the exception: most fishermen who caught tuna dumped them overboard far out at sea so they wouldn't foul the beaches, or took them into port where the carcasses were converted into fertilizer or fish oil.

Writing toward the end of the nineteenth century, George Brown Goode, who became U.S. Fish Commissioner when Baird died, observed that despite tuna's excellent reputation in the Old World and its abundance in American waters, it was hardly ever eaten by Americans-although oil from tuna was used for lamps.

Leaping Tuna

American saltwater sportfishing was transformed by one man: Charles Frederick Holder, a naturalist who spent years working with his father, Joseph Bassett Holder, curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The father-and-son team spent five years studying the growth of coral reefs off the coast of Florida. Charles Holder subsequently served as a consultant to the New York Aquarium in 1875 and then devoted his life to writing books for adolescents.

Charles Holder already had exposure to tuna before he arrived in Southern California in 1885. When he was young, his father had acquired and mounted an 8-foot-long, 1,000-pound bluefin at the Lynn Museum in Massachusetts. Then Holder heard about the tuna averaging 1,000 pounds each that had been captured in Gloucester harbor. During the 1870s, he came across another 9-foot bluefin, which he estimated weighed about 1,200 pounds, in New York's Fulton Market. He carefully measured that fish and published his findings in Scientific American. Holder began to wonder what it would be like to catch one of these monsters with a rod and reel. For a time he fished for tuna off the coast of Maine's Boon Island. But in two seasons, he never even saw one.

Holder's only son died at the age of five months in 1885. He and his wife moved from New York to Pasadena, California, to distract themselves from their loss. At the time, Southern California's natural habitat was still relatively pristine and largely unexplored from botanical and zoological standpoints. Taking his rod and reel with him, Holder began exploring the state's mountains, rivers, and coastal waters. He was particularly enthralled with Southern California's coastal areas, where he found "an amazing spectacle in the abundance of fishes, shellfish and crustaceans." Holder also explored the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California. Santa Catalina was the easiest to visit, and Holder went there for the first time in 1886. Here, he found a real "fisherman's paradise."

In the very small community of Avalon, Holder found tuna bones in an Indian mound on the beach. Catalina had been occupied intermittently by various American Indian groups, including the Gabrieleño in prehistoric times. Europeans had first visited the island in 1542 and sporadically thereafter. By the mid-nineteenth century, the island was largely deserted. George Shatto, a real estate speculator, purchased the island, established a very small community that would become Avalon, and began building a resort. He built Avalon's pier, making it possible for passenger ships to dock, and started construction on a hotel on the site of the Indian mound that Holder had explored on his first visit to the island. The hotel was initially a modest place for visitors to spend the night, but during the following decade it was upgraded to luxury status.

Early on, the Hotel Metropole was the only commercial hotel in Avalon, and visiting fishermen congregated there. Holder convinced some to go after tuna with rods and reels. As it turned out, it was usually the fish who caught the rods and reels, frequently pulling them overboard. Fishing for tuna this way was dangerous, and the Metropole garnered the nickname "Tuna Hospital" because of all the injured and bandaged fishermen who stayed there during tuna season.

A decade after Holder had first tried to catch a tuna, he reported in Cosmopolitan magazine that no one had yet succeeded. It was the fish that had "harvested the rods, reels, and lines." The problem was that the equipment of the time just wasn't strong enough to withstand the tremendous pulling power of large tuna. When Holder finally caught a 183-pound tuna in 1898, he immediately informed the press, and newspapers heralded this astounding feat the following day, reporting that Holder's tuna had been landed after a struggle lasting three hours and forty-five minutes. The Pasadena Daily News, Holder's hometown paper, proclaimed that in landing the mighty fish, "the Professor eclipsed all previous achievements in the line of angling."

Despite this nice story, perhaps written by Holder himself, he was not the first to catch a large tuna with a rod and reel. That honor went to Colonel Clinton P. Morehouse, also of Pasadena, who did so during the summer of 1896. During the 1897 season, fourteen more large tuna were caught by other anglers. But it was Holder's catch the following year that proved to be the turning point, for shortly thereafter Holder called a meeting of the sportfishermen then in Avalon. When the group convened, at the Metropole, they inaugurated the Tuna Club. As Holder later wrote, "Among the observers were reporters and correspondents, and I later saw myself pictured playing this leaping tuna forty feet at least in air. Another account in a magazine showed me calmly swimming and playing the tuna, the caption suggesting that I rather preferred that method. The Associated Press telegraphed the story to England, and the members of the peaceful Sea Anglers' Association in London received the account the next morning in the papers, and doubtless marveled at the big things in America." Holder later explained his reasons for founding the Tuna Club:

The splendid fishes of the region, yellowtail, white sea bass and others, were being slaughtered by the ton. I had seen boats go out with five or six hand lines rigged out astern, to return with forty or more fish, none less than fifteen pounds, and running up to twenty-five, each with the game qualities of a forty-pound salmon. It was a depressing sight, as most of these fishes were fed to the sea lions and sharks. How to stop it was the question, and I conceived the idea of an appeal to the innate sense of fair play that is found among nearly all anglers.

At the club's subsequent meeting on August 22, 1898, Holder wanted five pounds added to the weight of his trophy catch to compensate for blood and fluids lost by the tuna as it fought on the line, and that its weight should therefore be listed as 188 pounds. The Los Angeles Daily Times (again with Holder as the likely source) dutifully passed on this claim as well. The feats of these tuna fishermen-and occasionally women-were news at the turn of the twentieth century, and an unlikely fish that few Americans had ever heard of began to be bandied about in newspapers-often with front-page coverage-and magazines across America, Canada, and Great Britain. These reports were often abetted by Holder and other club members, who were not opposed to gaining a little visibility for themselves, but their main interest was to promote their sportsmanlike approach to saltwater fishing with rods and reels in hopes of stopping the massive slaughter of fish along the coast of Southern California by sportfishermen who caught thousands of fish with hand lines, only to toss them overboard. This is not to say that the sportsfishermen did much more with their tuna when caught, for there's little evidence during the early years that club members actually ate the fish-they usually just had their photo taken with the largest fish they caught, or they stuffed it and shipped it home.

Due to these promotional activities, anglers around the country flocked to Catalina and joined the movement. The club was composed of "gentleman and ladies who have by their skill and perseverance succeeded in taking with rod and reel in the waters of this State and with a line not stronger than 24-thread, one leaping tuna of not less than 100 pounds weight." The purpose of the club would later be defined "to prevent the slaughter of game fish with hand lines, to elevate the standard of sport on the Pacific Coast," and "in every legitimate way to set an example of the highest possible sportsmanship." By the end of July 1898, twenty-four anglers had landed a tuna weighing 100 pounds or more following the club's rules. To those who had achieved this feat, the club awarded a blue button, which was worn-then, as now-with pride. The following year, Holder caught a 196-pound tuna; he was so happy that he sent his catch for mounting by Charles B. Parker in Avalon. As for Holder's record tuna, it was short-lived; it was surpassed a few days later by Colonel Morehouse, who reeled in a 251-pound tuna.

The club's constitution and bylaws permitted the use of fishing lines "up to twenty-four thread only and light rods, with the condition that every angler must land his own fish." Even with improved rods and reels, Holder reported, 50 percent of the fish got away. Thus, he concluded, "overfishing is practically impossible, and much finer sport with the rod is obtained. The result is, that to-day the waste of these fine game fishes is practically stopped." To popularize the new sport, Holder created an "annual angling tournament, to begin May first and end October first, during which valuable prizes of rods and tackle, medals and cups in various classes were offered to anglers who took the largest fishes of various kinds with the light rods and fine lines specified by the by-laws of the Tuna Club." He proudly proclaimed that "Nowhere in the world does a higher standard of sport prevail than on the tuna grounds of Southern California." America's first sportfishing club specializing in saltwater fish was up and running, and it would soon help create the sport of saltwater fishing that would be enjoyed by fishermen throughout the world.

Kites and Balloons

Club rules had to be followed by sportsfishermen, but there was still plenty of room for creativity. When tuna became leery of boats and would not go near them, fishermen invented new ways of catching them. In 1909 Captain George Farnsworth, a boatman and experienced fisherman, developed the creative idea of catching tuna by flying a kite several hundred feet from the boat; a baited fisherman's line was attached to the kite, from which it was dangled vertically into the water. Undisturbed by the close proximity of a boat, the tuna would go after the baited fishing line. When one was hooked, the line broke off from the kite, and the fisherman then was pitted against the tuna. The boatman then reeled in the kite. Farnsworth extracted a solemn pledge from the fishermen who hired him not to divulge his secret, but two years later, word leaked out; within a few years, the kite fishing was in general use. Other anglers used a small "sled" that performed a similar function except that it skimmed across the surface of the water leaving almost no wake. Bait was attached to the sled on a string that was also attached to the fisherman's reel. When the fish was hooked, the bait line broke, leaving the fisherman to reel in the fish while the boatman pulled in the sled.

By far the most unusual idea for catching tuna was proposed by a Dr. B. F. Alder from San Francisco, who planned to use hot air balloons to catch tuna. The fishermen would just hover over the surface of the sea in the balloon, dangling bait into the water. Although balloons were discussed and apparently used, no evidence has surfaced that anyone in a balloon ever caught a tuna. But it was a creative idea.

What Does Raw Tuna Taste Like?

The publicity that tuna fishing generated attracted some of world's finest anglers and writers during the early twentieth century. Members of the Tuna Club included many prominent Americans. In his youth, the future World War II general, George S. Patton, spent considerable time in Catalina and became a member of the club. Honorary members included President Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected to the club in 1898, when he was governor of New York; Grover Cleveland, former president of the United States; Charles Hallock, founder of Forest and Stream; David S. Jordan, the ichthyologist who had examined the fish of California in 1880; and many other luminaries. Fishermen came from around the world to catch the big tuna mentioned in so many articles and books.

Another visitor to Avalon was a writer, born Pearl Zane Gray in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872. His family changed the spelling of their last name to "Grey," and Pearl later dropped his first name and became known simply as Zane Grey. Trained as a dentist, he began writing fiction in 1902. He published his first western novel-a huge success-in 1910; his subsequent books made him a very wealthy man. One of his hobbies was fishing. He had caught tuna off the New Jersey shore before visiting Catalina for the first time in August 1914. He failed to catch a big tuna that season, but he came back year after year to try again. Zane Grey liked Southern California and settled his family in Altadena, a Los Angeles suburb, in 1918. The following year he finally caught a big tuna at Catalina and later wrote: "The event was so thrilling that I had to write to my fisherman friends about it." He also told the whole world about his "giant tuna" in his Tales of Fish, which was written and published shortly after he caught the fish. Grey received his blue button from the Tuna Club and was later elected its president.

Unfortunately, the large tuna disappeared from the Channel Islands, but Grey continued to fish and to write about his experiences. Some weighty tuna continued to be caught by Zane Grey, but those fish were pulled out of the Atlantic near Nova Scotia or the South Pacific off Australia. In 1924, for instance, Grey caught a bluefin weighing 758 pounds-a record at the time-off the coast of Nova Scotia. What pleased Grey most was his ten-year-old son's reaction: "Sure is some fish! Biggest ever caught on a rod, by anybody, any kind of game fish.... And I was here to see you lick him, dad!"

Another writer who was drawn to tuna fishing was Ernest Hemingway, and he too wrote about his exploits. In an article for the Toronto Star in 1922, Hemingway described catching tuna in Vigo, Spain. Years later Hemingway fished near Bimini and Cat Cay in the Caribbean, and in 1935 caught two large bluefin, which he called "the king of all fish." In hisPulitzer Prize-winning book, The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway is a bit confusing about the kind of fish the old man caught: on one page he says that it's an albacore, on another page it's a tuna, and on yet another page, a bonito. But Hemingway does mention eating raw tuna, something very usual at the time: "What does raw tuna taste like? You'll have to taste real raw tuna to find out." He continues: "It would not be bad to eat with a little lime or with lemon or with salt."

Despite the vast numbers of tuna that were caught, few fishermen actually tasted tuna until the early twentieth century. Even at Tuna Club banquets, tuna was not on the early menus. While most Americans did not eat it, some ethnic groups were happy to feast on a fish they considered a delicacy. Immigrants from Mexico and Japan, for instance, ate tuna, as did those from the Mediterranean region, where people had eaten tuna for millennia. Fishermen from these ethnic groups engaged in commercial tuna fishing, but they sold their small catches only to members of their own communities. Some of the fish were dumped "out a mile from shore as no one with good judgment ate tuna fish." Holder reported in 1908 that nearly all the tuna caught with rod and reel were mounted by Chas. C. Parker, the Avalon taxidermist, "who has sent them all over this country and to England as trophies." By 1914, however, things had changed, and Holder finally reported that young, "meaty and rich" albacore were actually served at the "banquets of the Tuna Club."

Conservation

Holder was not just interested in catching fish in a sportsmanlike fashion; he was also interested in protecting "the game fishes of Southern California." He and other members of the Tuna Club engaged in efforts to preserve the fisheries adjacent to the Channel Islands. Yet tuna began to disappear-partly because of changing migratory patterns, but mainly because of massive commercial canning of albacore, which began in 1903. Holder was not at all happy about this. The most menacing danger, he proclaimed in 1912, was the commercial fishermen who used nets to catch game and market fish, as well as the food that these fish ate. Without sardines and other fish that tuna preyed on, the big fish moved on to more hospitable waters. By 1914, few big tuna were caught off the Catalina shores. Sportsfishermen and newspapers blamed commercial fishermen who operated out of San Pedro. They were extremely efficient and caught tens of thousands of tons of albacore annually for the canneries.

The Tuna Club lobbied for legislation prohibiting commercial fishing around the Channel Islands. A three-mile limit around Catalina was designated as a conservation zone where only sportsfishermen could catch fish. This was found to be discriminatory to commercial fishermen, and it was declared unconstitutional in 1915. The California legislature rushed through new legislation in 1915. When the albacore began to disappear from the channel in 1918, commercial fishermen began intruding into protected areas around the Channel Islands. When the boats were charged with violating the ban, boat owners filed an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law. The Catalina ban was upheld, but tuna boats continued intruding into the conservation zone; when caught, owners paid small fines.

Sportfishermen began fishing elsewhere. Zane Grey lamented that the swordfish, white sea bass, yellowtail, and albacore were doomed because the "Japs, the Austrians, the round-haul nets, the canneries and the fertilizer-plants-that is to say, foreigners and markets, greed and war, have cast their dark shadow over beautiful Avalon."

A Monstrous Tuna

Ironically, the early sportfishermen who initially turned up their palates at tuna laid the groundwork for a shift in the public's perception of tuna from repulsive bottom-feeder to tasty, inexpensive food. Newspapers and magazines published articles about the exploits of sportfishermen, and writers such a Charles Holder and Zane Grey popularized the fish in their works. At last, mainstream Americans-few of whom were even aware of the existence of tuna prior to 1900-soon became big fans of the canned fish they would find on their grocers' shelves during the following decades.

Fishermen who came to Catalina during the early twentieth century would be instrumental in turning canned tuna into a household staple. One was Wilbur F. Wood, the superintendent of the California Fish Company, a sardine cannery in San Pedro. Wood went fishing near Catalina in 1902 and caught "a monstrous tuna," estimated at 600 pounds, which he fought for seven hours before handing his rod over to his boatman, "who continued for seven and a quarter hours further before it was landed." At the last minute, as so often happened, the line broke; the gaffs couldn't hold the fish, and the dead tuna slipped to the bottom of the sea. Two other sportfishermen who would follow in Wilbur Wood's footsteps were Frank Van Camp and his son Gilbert, who came to Catalina on a fishing trip in 1910. They stayed at the Metropole and agreed to follow the rules of the Tuna Club for catching fish. They made a deal with other fisherman staying at the Metropole to give a can of their "Pork and Beans" to the fisherman who caught the biggest tuna. Wood and the Van Camps would subsequently help create the California tuna-canning industry.

Postscript

Charles Holder founded the Pasadena Academy of Sciences in 1888 and became a trustee of Throop University, later renamed the California Institute of Technology. He wrote dozens of articles that promoted the Avalon Tuna Club and sportfishing. He also published more than twenty books, many of which included chapters on tuna. These include Angling (1897); Santa Catalina: Its Sports and Antiquities (1897); The Big Game Fishes of the United States (1903); The Log of a Sea Angler (1906); and The Channel Islands of California: A Book for the Angler, Sportsman, and Tourist (1910). With David S. Jordan, he coauthored Fish Stories, which was published in 1909. Charles Holder died in 1915. For his work in sportfishing, he was inducted into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 1998.

David S. Jordan became president of Stanford University in 1891; he retired in 1916 after serving twenty-two years in that capacity and three years as chancellor. He opposed American involvement in World War I. He authored or coauthored more than 200 books and reports on various subjects, including one on evolution, and he was called as an expert witness for the defense in the Scopes trial in 1925. A few months before his death in 1931, Time magazine selected him for its cover.

Charles H. Gilbert, who had conducted the survey of California fish with Jordan in 1880, became one of America's most important ichthyologists and fishery biologists. He wrote or coauthored more than 200 books and reports on American fish before his death in 1928.

Using Catalina's Tuna Club as a model, other saltwater fishing clubs appeared. The Southern California Tuna Club, founded in 1925, currently boasts 200 to 250 anglers as members. The Atlantic Tuna Club was incorporated in October 1914 on Block Island; it was later moved to Snug Harbor, Rhode Island. The Hawaii Tuna Club was formed in 1914. Anglers founded tuna clubs in many other places, including New York, New Jersey, and Northern California. Overseas clubs included the Tuna Club of Tasmania and the Bimini Marlin-Tuna Club.

Zane Grey continued to write-a total of eighty-nine books-and he continued to fish for tuna. In 1936 he visited Australia, where he fished and wrote about his adventures in An American Angler in Australia (1937). He died two years later.

The Avalon Tuna Club survives today, although the bluefin tuna virtually disappeared from the coastal area around the Channel Islands decades ago. In 1908, the club erected a building in Avalon to serve as its permanent home. This modest structure burned to the ground (along with much of Avalon) in 1915. But a new clubhouse-a far more imposing one-was built the following year, and it remains one of the most impressive structures on the beach today.

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