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Sunday, August 26, 2012


ON THE WATERFRONT--Tuna seiners during the heyday of the commercial fishing industry were as common in San Diego Harbor as taxicabs are today in mid-town Manhattan. Historically, from the beginning of the 20th century until the early 1970s, San Diego was the “tuna capital of the world.”

In 1940, 95 percent of the tuna consumed in the United States was packed in San Diego, making this industry one of the economic pillars of the city and one that supported Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, and Hispanic families living in San Diego Bay communities like Point Loma, Little Italy, and Logan Heights (Barrio Logan). Today, Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea are still headquartered in San Diego.

Tuna! Tuna! Tuna!, a current exhibition presented by the San Diego History Center, is celebrating that golden era of commercial fishing and canning industries through December 30, 2012. The finny expo, sponsored in part by the American Tunaboat Assn., depicts early ethnic-American fishing families and includes hands-on pole-fishing demonstrations, packing and canning activities and films documenting San Diego’s impact on the global tuna fishing industry. Hear their stories and experience what it was like to work in this industry.

The exhibit also examines the impact of commercial fishing on tuna stocks, and ongoing efforts to ensure that the fisheries for tuna around the world are sustainable.

Making a rare but tasteful appearance at the Expo since his retirement is, Charlie the Tuna, who is a history maker on his own as one of early television’s first cartoon character spokesmen. “Tell ‘em Charlie sent you.” Charlie ruled the airwaves for StarKist Tuna for 85 commercials from 1958 through 1989. Retro viewing of Charley’s hits go to

[This article first appeared in the August, 2012 issue of San Diego Home Garden Lifestyles Magazine. It was written by Thomas Shess.]

History caption: Pictured are workers from the Cohn-Hopkins cannery on Crosby Street in 1933. San Diego’s version of Cannery Row began about 100 years ago when the Pacific Tuna Canning Co. opened in 1911. By 1930s canneries like Cohn-Hopkins ran along the waterfront from downtown to 28th Street.

Photo is courtesy of the San Diego History Center. The non-profit San Diego History Center collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets materials in order to promote the history of the San Diego region. To become a member or for information on tours, educational programs and the center’s museums, contact the San Diego History Center, 1649 El Prado, Ste. 3; 619-232-6203,

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