Changes to the Sea and the Seanerie: The Environmental Impact of Tourism and The Fishing Industry in Monterey

As Connie Chiang states in Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast, environmental histories typically place the blame of ecological deterioration upon commercial industry above or rather than tourism.  Leisure activities and the service industry also contribute to the detrimental changes of the environment. She goes on to state that the two go hand in hand, and that Monterey, California’s Pacific coastline fishing shows this often overlooked interplay:

They [tourists] give the impression that they have forged a completely different relationship with nature from those who participated in the sardine industry.  But leisure experiences, from the gleaming displays at the aquarium to the meals served at restaurants, are dependent on the labor of others – individuals whose work is often hidden from view, unlike the cannery workers and fishermen before them. (190)

Tourism to Monterey and its bay really began when the Southern Pacific Railroad began shipping in guests from the East and North.  Sea and fresh water was transported to and heated at the Hotel Del Monte’s bathhouse, thus changing the Monterey Bay tides, depths and temperature.  To create the most pleasing landscape for its guests, the Del Monte often made the area surrounding it artificial.  For example, at the Del Monte gardens the flowers were not native to the area and the lakes were artificial.  Methods were needed to transport water and to keep up the façade of a high-class resort.  More tourists began to arrive at the bays in the early 20th century after Monterey’s Pebble Beach opened and auto tourism and camping became popular.  In turn, more was changed and more damage was done to the environment, such as pest control practices in the Del Monte Forest.

Chiang, however, in no way attempts to downplay the fishermen’s impact on the coast and environment in general. Some of the methods used, such as the Chinese trawls, as well as an influx in the demand for seafood, cleaned the shoreline of its aquatic inhabitants. After tourism began to pick up, canneries began to appear.  The technology owners used to exploit the growing salmon and sardines markets “brought more pollution to the coastline, [and] fundamentally altered human relations with the natural world, . . .” (47).  Sardines in particular experienced a shortage if numbers.  A short lull after WWI,  demands for canned sardines increased, and, in turn, so did the industrial pollution.  Furthermore, fishermen were not careful as the skimmed the ocean floor and wastefully picked up more than just the popular, little silver fish.  As for the leisure industry, an increase in tourists brought also meant an increase in tourist waste.  The Pacific coastline and bay were polluted by the Hotel Del Monte, Pacific Grove and Monterey. This drove away guests and fish and killed some of the marine life in the Monterey Bay.

During WWII, both the sardine and the tourist numbers had thinned out dangerously.  When no environmental solution was found to bring back the sardines, tourism became the fallback plan for city planners and developers.  Cannery Row, a novel based in Monterey, also encouraged tourism as well.  With the city dependent on tourism for its survival and with fishing no longer a viable option for the local economy, the beaches were cleaned of their decay, and the fish were no longer in danger of being wiped out (143) Ironically, city planners used the fisheries that had contribute to the area’s ecological disintegration as part of the “natural” scenery and to distinguish Cannery Row from other seaside resorts and tourist destination.  Luckily, ambitious plans for wide scale redevelopment that may have done further harm to the environment were put to rest by government agencies and lack of funding.  According to Chiang, “The Cannery Row LCP [Local Coastal Program] compromised between development and protection, allowing hotels and motels, providing pubic access to beaches, and requiring protection of marine habitats,” (154).


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