More than a century ago, sardines were far more popular than tuna – and the bigger fish was even regarded as a “nuisance,” suggests a history of the industry provided by HealthyTuna.com.
Concern about bycatch is hardly new, as revealed by a 1989 New York Times article describing the canned sardine industry:
“The fishing industry is increasing all along the Pacific coast ….
“‘Don’t you sometimes catch things you are not after?’ asked the passenger on the sardine boat of one of the crew.
“‘You’re right,’ was the reply. ‘Sometimes we get big sharks in the net; sometimes a sea lion that rips it upside down and keeps us all day mending it. The shark is the worst, as it rolls over and over and tears the net in every way. The big fish known as the tuna here goes right through it, leaving a perfectly round hole easy to fix. All these animals prey on sardines, and generally lie under the schools, and when the net is lowered get caught in the trap.'”
More than a century ago, those who deplored waste expressed concern about any unintended catch.
Fortunately, tuna is now appreciated – and there are safe, sustainable ways to fish. “America’s love affair with canned tuna has continued as Americans enjoy almost 1 billion pounds of canned or pouched tuna each year,” concludes HealthyTuna.com
(Photo of small troller Captor on the Willamette River, courtesy of Columbia River Maritime Museum; other great historic photos of tuna boats can be found at the Pacific County Historical Society and Museum)