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Tuna Was A Way of Life In San Diego

Line and pole fishing in 1917.

Credit: San Diego History Center

Above: Line and pole fishing in 1917.

Guests: Julius Zolezzi, retired tuna boat owner

Brian Holman, CEO, American Tuna Boat Association

Matthew Schiff, exhibit curator, San Diego History Center


Tuna Celebration

Tuna! Celebrating San Diego's Famous Fishing Industry

An interactive exhibit at the San Diego History Center, Balboa Park

Now until December 31

From the 1920s to the late 60s, the tuna industry flourished in San Diego, becoming a major employer, second only to the U.S. Navy.

To honor the industry and those who created and sustained it, The San Diego History Center presents TUNA! Celebrating San Diego's Famous Fishing Industry. The interactive exhibit, which tells the story of the rise and decline of tuna fishing, is on view at the History Center in Balboa Park until December 31.

The exhibit showcases the Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hispanic families which formed enclaves around San Diego Bay earning a living from this vital food source and building many of the waterfront communities such as Point Loma, Little Italy, and Barrio Logan.

After World War II, major corporations began to buy up the local canneries. San Diego's independent tuna boat owners found themselves having to make deals to work for the canneries to make a living.

Foreign competition from cheaper Japanese frozen tuna further eroded San Diego's share of the tuna market. Environmental concerns, particularly about dolphins captured in the big nets now in use, doomed the industry as it was.

It survives in San Diego today through distributors like Bumble Bee and the new company American Tuna, which practices pole-and-line fishing, deemed sustainable by environmental groups.

Julius Zolezzi, retired tuna boat owner, and Matthew Schiff, the exhibit curator at the San Diego History Center, talk to KPBS about San Diego's tuna history.

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