Moss Landing: In the Cradle of the Bay

March 14, 2019

*Date Source:  CDFW Table 18PUB, 2017

Of all the natural beauty found along Monterey Bay, one of the most prominent landmarks just happens to be a power plant. Two 500-foot stacks rise above the easternmost point of the shoreline marking the location of the historic Moss Landing fishing port, which can be seen for miles from Monterey to Santa Cruz.

“They’re great for navigation,” says Andrew Hippert, manager of Moss Landing Boat Works and a commercial fisherman, looking at the stacks from across the Old Salinas River on a recent afternoon.

Of the three main ports on Monterey Bay, Moss Landing stands apart with commercial fishing remaining a driving force of the local economy—even with robust recreation businesses and world-class research institutes (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Moss Landing Marine Labs) also calling the unincorporated town home.

The fishing industry brought in 10.2 million pounds of fish worth $4.5 million off the boat in 2017 alone, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The number of boats is well below the high-water mark of the late 1990s and the struggle continues for the commercial fishing industry. Yet there are those who remain bullish about the future, pointing to many investments in fishing infrastructure on the horizon.

Leaders in commercial fishing and related industries say, with near uniformity, that two things will help the local seafood economy thrive in Moss Landing—better salmon runs and more quota for groundfish and other stocks. More time on the water fishing and less time tied up in the harbor is the best catalyst for economic activity in ports like Moss Landing.

Groundfish stocks are almost fully rebuilt from the economic disaster years in the early 2000s and quota allocations for fishermen were just increased in December. A few rainy winters have also buoyed projections for this summer’s Chinook salmon runs on the California coast. So on those fronts the future is already looking brighter.

The stacks serve as a navigational landmark for fishermen while they are harvesting their sustainable catch in and around the Bay. Photo credit: Calder Deyerle.

This year, Moss Landing’s very own community supported fishery, Real Good Fish, and Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust Board member, Melissa Mahoney, will begin working with ten local fishermen on an “exempted fishing permit (EFP).” With this special permit, fishermen will test fishing gear innovations that target chilipepper rockfish—a delicious and abundant local favorite—while avoiding overfished species. A win-win-win for commercial fishermen, environmentalists, and local seafood lovers.

The small hamlet, with a population just over 200, also boasts new businesses and research that will move commercial fishing forward with aquaculture and new investments in the local shipyard.

Of all the investments in local infrastructure, the 300-ton boat lift that is scheduled to be in operation by 2020 at Moss Landing Boat Works is poised to be the biggest economic driver in the coming years.

Joe Cappuccio, owner of Watsonville-based Del Mar Seafoods who relies on Moss Landing as his primary port, says he presently must send his boats to Oregon, San Francisco and Ventura to get his large seiners hauled out for repair.

“Repairs and maintenance of the commercial wetfish fleet will definitely have a positive impact on the Moss Landing economy as millions of dollars are spent each year employing many skilled tradesmen,” Cappuccio says. “This money has been spent outside of our local community during the off season and not benefitting our local economy, a major economic loss to Moss Landing.”

Other potential investments in Moss Landing include a new dock at Moss Landing Boat Works where two companies, Del Mar and Alaska-based Silver Bay Seafoods, plan building new offloading facilities for squid, sardines and other wetfish. Silver Bay has leased dock space at Bay Fresh Seafoods, and also recently purchased a plant in neighboring Watsonville, which they are converting to a state-of-the art, high volume, flash-frozen facility that will employ up to 200 people.

The Moss Landing Harbor District plans to begin dredging the harbor in the coming month. It’s an expensive project, around $2 million, says Harbormaster Linda McIntyre, but it’s necessary for a working waterfront to be able to serve fishing boats large and small.

On the research front, there is an array of aquaculture projects in development through Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. The projects look to complement the existing fishing economy rather than supplant it, says professor Dr. Michael Graham.

The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is also working with fishermen to explore the launch of a weekend fishermen’s market where seafood lovers can buy their catch straight from fishermen. One fisherman, Vicki Crow, already sells off her boat, the Beticia, on Dock A.

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Fisherman Jerid Rold (F/V Deputy Dawg) unloading Dungeness crab.

Moss Landing is a valuable source of local, sustainable seafood, whether it’s Dungeness crab in the fall and winter, Chinook salmon in the summer, or petrale sole, numerous species of rockfish, seabass, halibut, blackcod, squid and anchovies year-round, depending on abundance.

“Moss Landing has a lot of potential,” Hippert says. “It’s an unturned secret that people are beginning to rediscover.”

Moss Landing has kept a salty, blue-collar ethos alive on the bay, all while looking toward innovation and the future. Those stacks standing large on the horizon aren’t as much a blighted vista as they are a marker, allowing fishermen and seafood lovers alike to set their navigational courses to the heart of the Monterey Bay, where fishing culture is alive and well.

Roger Burleigh