The Changing Face of Moss Landing

MOSS LANDING – Weathered by age and sea, rusty railings mark the way to Bay Fresh Seafoods, a one-room shop where fourth-generation Moss Landing fisherman Jerid Rold has just arrived with a twisted transport hagfish – one of his few yet profitable catches.

Across the street stands the sleek and sophisticated Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a world-renowned center for advanced research in ocean science.

Moss Landing, 200 inhabitants, quickly changes identity. The historic town sees its commercial fishing roots fade as Moss Landing secures its status as a popular destination for marine research and ecotourism.

Real estate players, research institutes, cannabis entrepreneurs and restaurateurs are becoming engines of the city – and its economy. And as the future of Moss Landing reinvents itself, Rold sees an increasingly shrinking place for anglers like him.

“Each of those slides across the street was a commercial fishing boat,” Rold said, pointing to the port. “Now there are maybe 10”.

Recreational and scientific boats now dominate the 600-slip harbor that once housed mostly commercial fishing boats, said Linda McIntyre, harbor master at Moss Landing.

The local fishing business “was once analogous to the family farm,” McIntyre said. “The children would grow up learning the trade, then the children would take over, and it was passed down from generation to generation. “

But now, she says, “when the older fishermen decide to retire, they just sell their boats.”

To keep up, Bay Fresh pays rent to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, founded by Silicon Valley pioneer David Packard. Much of the port is owned by MBARI, Moss Landing Marine Labs and Gregg Marine, a company that develops and deploys marine drilling technology.

On Wednesday, commercial fisherman Jerid Rold unloads his hagfish catch in Moss Landing harbor. Rold and Seaman Noah Wilson returned with their 1,600-pound hagfish catch. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

In 1996, $ 10.5 million worth of fish (in 2009 dollars) were caught by the crew of Moss Landing, according to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. By 2016, that figure had fallen to $ 5.4 million, down 49% after adjusting for inflation.

Harsh times have drained the Bay Fresh fleet. In the past five years, Rold said, the company has lost half of its black cod fishing boats and has gone from 40 salmon boats to four.

To survive, Rold and other independent fishermen recognize that they will have to change their way of life or be left behind.

“Fishing is going to be where you go to work for someone else,” Rold said. “You are not going to own your boat. You are not going to own your business. You will be working for a business, market, or government entity.

Or maybe one day Rold will simply leave the port of Moss Landing for good.

Industrial roots

Located at the confluence of the Elkhorn Slough and the Pacific Ocean, Moss Landing has always been linked to its waterfront. In the late 1800s, Charles Moss, a ship captain from Texas, put the city on the map when it became one of the West Coast’s most successful whaling harbors. This led to an explosion of fish processing plants and canneries in Moss Landing at the turn of the 20th century. To transport goods, the Southern Pacific Railroad established tracks, which still run along the swamp today.

When the whaling and canning industry collapsed, the town made a deal with Pacific Gas & Electric, and Moss Landing in 1952 became the site of the world’s second largest power station in the time. Today, those same smoking chimneys still dominate the town – an iconic landmark of the community, albeit out of place.

Today, Moss Landing sees a new energy era dawning. PG&E and Texas-based utility company Vistra, which merged with former owner Dynegy, are teaming up with electric car maker Tesla to build a massive lithium-ion battery plant. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the project last month.

Opposite the power station in the commercial park, entrepreneurs are growing marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes in 500,000 square feet of greenhouses.

Moss Landing’s cool climate makes it ideal for indoor growing, said Gavin Kogan, co-founder of Groupo Flor, a cannabis collective essential to the development of the industry in Moss Landing.

The Ocean Leader commercial purse seiner leaves the port of Moss Landing. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

Many visitors consider Moss Landing picturesque. But Kogan said much of the city is “ravaged” and envisions a framework for the “new economy – clean agriculture, clean manufacturing and resources used to promote the environment rather than profit from it.”

The DeepWater Desal plant on the east side of Moss Landing, whose owners hope to begin construction in 2021, would turn seawater into potable water. Seawater can also be used to cool a data center and to breed fish, said David Armanasco, one of the project partners.

Growing ecotourism

Other big changes are also underway.

The “Little Baja” Pottery Store, a landmark familiar to the legions of Californians who pass through town on Route 1, is being demolished to make way for a 30-room waterfront inn. And next door, construction crews are building 9,500 square feet of retail space, potentially becoming a restaurant.

On Moss Landing Road, the traditional “downtown”, the juxtaposition of old and new is striking. Post Office Antiques tilts to one side, almost as if decades of offshore winds are trying to tip it. Many storefronts are desperately empty.

But later, new apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space are under development. In addition, an octagonal-shaped building that has stood empty for years will be transformed into a three-story hotel for ecotourists.

Kim Solano, a 25-year resident of Moss Landing who owns the popular Haute Enchilada gallery and restaurant, has seen evolution come for years. Part of what is driving the change, Solano said, “is definitely cannabis,” which became legal for sale in California in January.

The East of Eden marijuana dispensary is slated to become Upper Enchilada’s immediate neighbor this spring.

Eco-tourism is another part of Moss Landing’s new economy: kayaking at Elkhorn Slough, whale watching from the harbor, walking on the sand at Moss Landing State Beach.

Construction continues on this plot of commercial property at the south end of Moss Landing. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

Monterey Bay is one of the few places on the West Coast where whales can be seen year round. And Elkhorn Slough has the largest sea otter raft in California.

Moss Landing “was kind of a hidden gem, and now it’s more and more on display – you get people from all over the world coming to see it,” said Dave Grigsby, owner of Kayak Connection at Moss Landing. .

Will the fishermen survive?

Solano believes that one way commercial fishermen might adapt is to partner with ecotourism companies, sustainable fishing organizations and research giants like MBARI.

“I think it’s a wonderful marriage,” she said.

One of these partnerships could be the aquaculture facility of Moss Landing Marine Labs. Funded by the Packard Foundation, researchers are studying how to responsibly “breed” fish and other foods like seaweed.

Jim Harvey, Director of Laboratories, sees the facility as a place where local fishermen could blend into Moss Landing’s new economy. “In fact,” he said, “some of these people might choose not to go out on a boat anymore and necessarily catch fish, as much as to grow them.”

As they look to the future, executives at Moss Landing recognize that fishing is not essential to the town’s economy – but are committed to trying to support the struggling industry.

“We value our fishing heritage and we intend to do everything possible to maintain this commercial fishing heritage,” said McIntyre.

But to preserve its fishing industry, Moss Landing’s infrastructure needs to be improved, say fishermen. However, there is little room in town for a modern fish market as property values ​​skyrocket.

And because most of the port is owned by institutions like MBARI, there is “a fairly limited amount of space and infrastructure that can be dedicated to fishing and unloading fish,” McIntyre said.

But without infrastructure, a small business like Bay Fresh cannot compete with the corporate fleets that are flooding the market.

“We used to have markets here where you could bring in 30,000 pounds and they would cut it and then they would distribute it,” Rold said. Now Bay Fresh sells whole fish or sends it for slicing in places as far away as Japan.

Years of high volume fishing in Monterey Bay have also changed the regulatory landscape. So now there are short windows for when and where anglers like Rold can catch certain species of fish, like lingcod.

These strict quotas are “the ramifications of decades of overfishing,” said Geoff Shester, who heads the California campaign from Oceana to Monterey. “It had devastating consequences for the fishermen here. A lot of them couldn’t survive, and I think it’s still very difficult.

Kayakers walk past a herd of pelicans at Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

Bay Fresh tries to make ends meet by selling fish to upscale restaurants and sustainable fish markets. But Rold says those markets are limited.

“So you’ve got a fish that was making $ 1.50 a pound for that now, you get $ 4,” Rold said. “But realistically, the general public can’t afford it. What is happening is that the boutique market that can afford it is inundated.

Shester says the biggest obstacle to opening up the sustainable seafood market is getting people’s attention through marketing tactics.

“We don’t really value and tell the story of our local seafood,” he said. “People who want sustainable seafood always buy products that come from China, Norway, Scotland and Chile instead of our backyard. “

Cultivating Moss Landing’s reputation as a place on the central coast to buy sustainable catches like Petrale’s sole, salmon, and black cod, however, could take years.

And Rold, 43, who has a family of four, is running out of time.

“That’s all I know,” he said. “This is where my family lives. It’s the beach I’ve been walking on since I was little. But man, it’s hard to watch.

He predicts that a day may come when visitors will no longer watch commercial fishing boats floating in the harbor.

To see the old Moss Landing, he said, they “will go click online and look at pictures.”

Mobile users, click on the link see and hear Jarid Rold, fisherman from Moss Landing, describe the evolution of commercial fishing.

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