Located in the front of The Portuguese Historical Center since 2014, the large black monument made of granite pays homage to all those in the tuna industry. With about 85 names engraved on plaques, there is room for more to be added.
According to PHC President Therese Garces, she had the idea after many in the tuna industry were denied having their names included on a similar monument located at Shelter Island.
“The Shelter Island monument has been there since about 1977 and was finished in 1984,” she said. “It was created for the men lost at sea — they were pioneers and founders of the tuna industry. Their names were put on the monument but only those who passed away on a tuna schooner. The criteria for a plaque was very strict, one had to die on a a tuna boat and live in San Diego.”
That’s when she had the idea of erecting another monument that would be more open to those in the industry.
“A lot of families were getting upset because they didn’t meet the criteria, and I wanted to do a monument that would honor any fisherman — crab, lobster or tuna — alive or deceased,” she said.
Today the monument stands proud and is rectangular in shape, has a fountain with a tuna man in bronze in the middle. There are also floor pavers surrounding it and leading into the center, as well as a granite bench that was placed by Avelino and Mary Alice Gonsalves, who gave $5,000 to get the monument started.
“Now there are around 85 names on it with room for about a handful more on the monument itself,” she said.
The cost is $225 for a plaque on the monument and $150 for a paver.
“We’ve had quite a bit of interest in the past few weeks,” she said. “It’s close to being done but we want to extend the monument one day. When we’re done, there will be more than 100 names on it.”
Why would someone want to add a name to the pavers or the monument?
“The tuna industry is gone and this is a great way for people to leave a piece of history,” Garces said, “… and it will help to honor the guys that worked hard in the early 1900s up till the late 1980s. Point Loma was known as the tuna capital of the world; a lot of people don’t even know that unless they look in a history book.”
She said the tuna industy went belly up around 1989 due to environmentalist uprisings that claimed “that dolphins were being killed in the tuna nets — and people who were buying tuna were worried dolphins were in the cans.
“It was cheaper to go to American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Panama after that to fish for tuna,” she said. “It [the dolphin issue] blew the industry away — and screwed up our whole business.”
She added it was the end of an era and now fishing for tuna is outsourced and there are only five American tuna boats that fish for the product.
“It’s a sad thing,” she said. “We are trying to keep the history alive with the monument and the pavers, we’re also working to get a tuna museum on the Embarcadero to let kids know what the tuna boat looked like.”
Criteria for applying to have a paver or a monument includes being male; a tuna fisherman as a livelihood on a commercial vessel; a tuna industry-related job such as a captain, deck, boss, deck hand, unloading worker or owner; a resident of San Diego at any time; and doesn’t have to be injury related.
If you are interested in honoring those that gave, or those still giving, their livelihood to the tuna fishing industry, please see the application for criteria and questionnaire at phcsandiego.com.
All applications will need to be approved by the PHC board of directors before the plaques and or pavers will be added, Garces said.
It could take up to three months for names to be added and only 20 characters are allowed including spaces.