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Anna Weinstein
Watershed Institute, CSU Monterey Bay
100 Campus Center Drive, Seaside, CA 93955


This section is a brief summary of some of the topics which will be thoroughly covered in the Archaeological, Cultural and Historical Resources section to be prepared during Phase II of this project.

Humans settled in the vicinity of MBNMS at least 10,000 years ago (Gordon 1996). At the time of Spanish arrival in the early 1700's, about forty Native American tribes populated coastal areas from San Francisco Bay to Point Sur (Margolin 1978), consuming acorns, terrestrial plants and animals, intertidal invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals (Gordon 1996). The Spanish called the Indians "Costanoans", meaning "coast dwellers." Today they are known as the Ohlone, meaning "people of the west" (Terrell 1995).

Shell midden piles left by the Costanoans have been found at most substantial drainages and shorelines between Morro Bay and Monterey Bay, comprised primarily of remains of abalone, California mussels, clams, snails, chitons, limpets, and other invertebrate groups (Terrell 1995). The quantity of shells suggests that Costanoan Indians were "a principal control of animal population sizes" in the intertidal zone in some areas, though this collecting is thought to have had little long-term effect on intertidal community structure (Gordon 1996). Costanoans also used fire to manage terrestrial vegetation for purposes such as enhancing growth and preparing plants for harvest (ibid).

The Spanish arrived in the late 1700's, and began to exploit both natural resources and the Ohlone. They established a pastoral lifestyle and an extensive network of missions which relied heavily on livestock. Sweeping changes in the resulting landscape included greatly enlarged pasture lands throughout fertile drainages of the MBNMS and incidental importation of many exotic grasses and other plants (Gordon 1996). The Spanish also hired imported Russian or local Indian hunters to hunt sea otters. These valuable pelts were exported to Asia, Europe, and the Americas . Sea otters became scarce around Monterey Bay by the late 1800's (Riedman and Estes 1988). The Spanish harvested abalone for trade with northwest coast Indians (Gordon 1996, Rawls 1984). Indian populations plummeted after establishment of the Missions due to introduced diseases, cultural dissolution, and exploitation by the Spanish and later the Mexicans (Rawls 1984).

Many European traders and explorers of the late 1700's wrote of the remarkable abundance and richness of wildlife in the Monterey Bay area. French explorer Jean Francoise de La Perouse, the first foreign visitor to the Spanish outposts, wrote that his ships were "surrounded by pelicans and spouting whales... There is not a country in this world which more abounds in fish and game of every description." (Rawls 1984).

New England whalers often hunted along the central coast in the late 1700's and early 1800's, feeding a voracious east coast market for oil, baleen and meat. Portuguese whalers from the Azores, originally brought to Monterey Bay as crew on the deep-water ships, settled in Monterey Bay by the 1850's (Lydon 1984). The Portuguese worked in shore-whaling operations begun by Yankee whaler John Davenport which targeted humpbacks and gray whales (though other species were also captured). As the price of whale oil decreased due to the production of kerosene in the 1880's, shore whaling died out (Gordon 1996). A brief resurgence in whaling occurred along the California coast in the 1900's, including a short-lived Norwegian-style and -owned modern whaling operation between 1919-1926 in Moss Landing (Gordon 1996, S. Lydon pers. comm).

In the 1850's, ethnic Chinese settled in Monterey to harvest kelp and to fish for abalone, squid and shark. These products were dried and shipped to San Francisco and China. This industry helped feed California's burgeoning Gold Rush population (Lydon 1985, Gordon 1996). By 1900 abalone were so scarce that the commercial harvest was banned, and the Chinese turned to other fisheries, especially as market demand from San Francisco increased. The construction of the San Francisco/Monterey railway in the 1860's allowed for rapid transport of fresh fish (Terrell 1995).

Genovese Italian immigrants established fishing settlements around Monterey Bay in the 1870's, providing a variety of fresh fish to the San Francisco markets via railroad. Sicilian fishermen followed in 1906, and soon focused on the sardine fishery (Lydon 1984). The sardine fishery peaked during the 1930s and early 1940s, collapsed in the late 1940's , and has not as yet recovered to its former size.

Several other ethnic groups have harvested MBNMS natural resources during this century, including Japanese hard-hat abalone divers (1900-1941), Vietnamese gillnet fishermen (1979- present), and offshore foreign (Russian, Polish and others) fishing fleets (Lydon 1984, 1985; Yamada 1995; Lydon and Loesch in prep; R. Starr pers. comm). All have adapted to become part of the multicultural population which continues to utilize the resources of this biologically rich region.

A wealth of shipwrecks in the MBNMS are a result of the significant maritime exploration and trade which has occurred here, coupled with a coastline dotted with shallow, rocky headlands (e.g. Point Lobos, Point Pinos) and largely exposed to prevailing winds and storms. More than one hundred wrecks have been documented in this region, and there are undoubtedly more which are not recorded (Minerals Management Service 1990, Terrell 1995).

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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