The waters of the Monterey Bay have been a vital resource providing food and work going back to the first settlers, the Ohlone, Rumsen and Costanoan tribes who often feasted on shellfish including the once abundant abalone. The Chinese were the first to establish a commercial fishing industry in Monterey in the early 1850’s. It is said that by 1853 there were 500 to 600 Chinese fishermen working the deep waters off Monterey. The Chinese fishing industry was very successful and this success created a conflict between them and the Italian-American fishermen who had begun to work the bay in the late 1800’s. The competition between the fishermen led to many conflicts and eventually led to new local laws being enacted between 1875 1nd 1900 that restricted the ability of the Chinese to fish, process or sell their fish. The European-American fishermen soon ran the industry and the Chinese fishing trade never recovered from these discriminating actions.
Although abalone started the fishing industry in Monterey, it is now a protected mollusk and is only available from growing “farms” at the Monterey Bay. Over the years fisheries have ranged from whaling to salmon, albacore tuna, squid and sardines, the tiny fish that made Monterey famous. Billions of tons of sardines passed through the nets and canneries throughout World War II and then as fast as they were caught the fish seemed to disappear. By 1950 the canning industry had crashed never to recover.
Fishing is still a thriving industry in the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary and instead of catching whales for their blubber, a completely new and thriving industry has evolved and many of the local fishing businesses have turned to whale watching ventures that have proven to be quite lucrative.