Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, August 16, 2019

Sardines and War

The enormous demand for sardines that brought Monterey, California, to the heights of fishing productivity described by John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row was connected to the Great War. Monterey’s fishing industry was destined become one of the most productive in the world due to the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, funneled to the surface via the vast underwater Monterey Canyon.

Monterey's First Cannery

The first major factory on Cannery Row's main street, Ocean View Avenue, was the Pacific Fish Company, born on 14 February 1908. Over the next decade, fishing and canning technology improved and prepared Monterey for the huge spike in demand for canned sardines brought about by World War I due to  the loss of access to North Sea and Atlantic fisheries.  Monterey's canneries expanded rapidly—with the Row becoming a boom-town of corrugated canneries lining the rocky shore. Cannery Row’s wartime production grew from 75,000 cases in 1915 to 1.4 million in 1918. After the war, the canneries continued to profit by processing odorous fishmeal. The industry slowed during the Great Depression, but World War II saw another boom for the canning industry.

A Cannery at Peak Operation

But then, almost as soon as the Second World War ended, collapse came. Believed to have been brought about by shifting oceanographic conditions, 90 percent of the local catch vanished in a just few years.  This disappearance of sardines from Monterey Bay brought economic disaster to Cannery Row. 

A Bustling Cannery Row Today

The area fell into ruin, but Cannery Row had a second act coming.  Led by some creative restaurateurs and the visionaries who saw the potential for a world-class aquarium on the shores of Monterey Bay, the area is now one of leading tourist sites in the state of California. No canneries are operating, though.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I just visited my daughter and her family in San Jose. We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I was able to tell them the history of Cannery Row. There is a nice display inside of the old cannery, but it was great to be able to add to the story.