"Wicked Tuna" is coming back to the National Geographic Channel! The fishermen of "Wicked Tuna" set out off the coast of the wickedly cold North Atlantic, but it was the West Coast where tuna really took off in the United States, centered mostly around canning. Here are some interesting facts you probably don't know about the history of the tuna industry.
Part of San Diego was built around the tuna industry
Tuna was a huge industry in San Diego for many years. In fact, San Diego was considered the "tuna capital of the world" from the early 1900s until the early '70s. That's not an exaggeration; 95 percent of the U.S. consumption of canned tuna was packed in San Diego in 1940!
The enormous industry helped to form communities within San Diego. Point Loma, Little Italy, and Barrio Logan were all formed around the tuna industry. The industry opened doors for Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hispanic families to earn a living and build waterfront communities around the important food source. Both Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea are still headquartered in San Diego.
The modern tuna industry began with the sardine industry
Albert P. Halfhill started it all when he faced a sardine shortage. He was already canning sardines, so he decided to experiment to cover the shortfall. Albacore had previously been discounted as unpalatable, but when it was cooked the right way and canned, people began to take notice. He began canning the white tuna in 1903, and it quickly grew. From there, the first large tuna cannery opened in San Diego in 1911, beginning a successful industry. Soon, San Diego had its own cannery row of sorts, which included Starkist and Bumble Bee.
WWI created a boom in the industry
The tuna industry was already growing strong when World War I hit, causing the industry to grow much more rapidly. Hundreds of thousands of cases filled with canned tuna were sold at that time because of its convenience and portability. The high-protein fish became a vital part of American soldiers' diets.
Expansion of fishing territory created an industry expansion
The fishing industry in the U.S. expanded not only to other locations along the coasts but also to a wider area offshore. The fishing fleet began venturing further out from the shoreline, expanding the supply and variety of tuna species. The U.S. soon became the world's largest producer and consumer of canned tuna products. The U.S. dominated from the mid-'50s through the '70s. It didn't last forever, but tuna was definitely a significant part of U.S. prosperity, creating livelihoods for many families.
To watch the "Wicked Tuna" fisherman do their thing, tune in to Nat Geo on Sunday, 1/13 at 9 PM ET.