Last modified: October 4, 2018

Central California Fishing Piers

Monterey Municipal Wharf #2

Addendum: (In reply to: Re: Monterey Municipal Wharf — Poacher’s Tale posted by urge2fish on Aug-2-03 11:04am)

I wasn’t quite alone. I had a young boy who was a witness. Also the young mixed Asian/Caucasian angler in his early 20’s who initially offered his Leatherman-style tool to do the hook extraction. He distanced himself pretty quick from the poacher when he realized that he may have helped some poacher keep and illegal fish and I was going to call it in.

At night somewhere in East Palo Alto? Heck no. No bein’ a hero for me. But in Monterey? With lots of tourists, hikers, and folks already on the beach and pier at 7am? Yeah, I think it’s viable. Every situation is different. And it was a judgment call. But look at the pic. Was it worth it? Heck yeah.

Reminds me of a credit card commercial. A cheap department store combo: $60. Terminal tackle: $2. Pile worms: $4. Getting ratted out by a big Chinaman who knows the regs: $790. Getting caught on dig-cam as a poacher and having it posted to the net: $Priceless.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< This wharf as well as the adjoining wharf—Fisherman’s Wharf—has appeared in many movies. Those specific to Wharf #2 include Captains Courageous shot in 1937. Scenes included two schooners tied up to Wharf #2. They Drive by Night was filmed in 1940. Several other movies were filmed in the harbor and at Fisherman’s Wharf and may contain scenes or shots of Wharf #2; they include A Woman of the Sea/The Sea Gull (1926); Tiger Shark (1932); I Cover the Waterfront (1933); Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); Captain January (1936): Edge of Darkness (1943); In Love and War (1958); and The Candidate (1972). Some sources say that See America First (1915) includes shots of sea gulls at Wharf #2 but considering the fact that Wharf #2 wasn’t built until 1926 that idea seems just a tad bit unreasonable, even if it is the movies. Maybe Fisherman’s Wharf?

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Fisherman’s Wharf sits just across the parking lot from Wharf #2 and is a must visit spot for most visitors to Monterey. It is slammed at times for its tourist glitz but I’ve always enjoyed a stroll on the wharf and have had many a fine meal at its restaurants.



History Note. Monterey Bay was originally discovered by Cabrillo on November 16, 1542, and given the name Bahia de los Pinos. Cermeno crossed it on December 10, 1595, and called it San Pedro (in honor of Saint Peter Martyr, whose feast day is December 9). Seven years later, on December 16, 1602, Vizcaino anchored in what today is the harbor and named it Puerto de Monterey, in honor of Conde de Monterey, then viceroy of New Spain.

Over the years several different wharves and piers have graced Monterey’s coastline providing a means of transportation, as well as commercial and recreational opportunity. Today, the railroads and the wharves they used for transportation are gone. So too are the canneries with their round the clock activity and smells that made the area famous or perhaps more appropriately infamous. Commercial fishing boats still operate from Wharf #2 but the numbers seem to decrease each decade. Recreation though remains strong for the three types of local angling—recreational party boats, private boaters, and shore-bound anglers. Luckily there are still some fishing piers—but once there were even more.


California’s first oceanfront wharf, in fact its first wharf, was built in Monterey Bay in 1845 by Thomas Larkin. At the time, Monterey was still the Mexican capital of Alta California and most citizens agreed a wharf would be a useful improvement for the town. Larkin, one of Monterey’s leading businessmen, and one of California’s first entrepreneurs, decided to build the wharf. The wharf was built under contract with the Mexican administrator of the customhouse and though Larkin eventually asked the Mexican government to repay the $8,200 cost of building the wharf, he never received the money. Larkin would later serve as the first and only United States consul to California.

In 1846, during the war with Mexico, American forces commandeered the wharf (for use by both the Army and the Navy). The next year, after acquisition of California by the United States, Larkin sought to have the American government either buy the wharf or return it to his control. If returned, he planned to bill the government for its use of his wharf. Initially both the Army and Navy seemed to ignore his claims. After receiving what he felt was a run around from Naval personnel, he contacted the Army. General Stephen Kearny, who had assumed command of both military and civil affairs, rejected his claim and suggested he contact Naval Commodore James Biddle. Larkin’s claims that prior Navy personnel had promised to purchase the wharf seemed to fall on deaf ears when Biddle suggested he should once again contact the Army since they might want the wharf.

Back went the case to the Army, which rejected his declared cost of $8,200.62, and the balance of $4,059 that he felt was due. The Army said they would have to determine the amount due; in the meantime, the wharf would remain public property. Finally, on May 7, 1847, an agreement was signed in which the Army agreed to both pay Larkin’s claim and to maintain the wharf. The money was to be paid from fees collected from all ships that used the wharf with the exception of United States warships. Years later, Jacob P. Leese bought Larkin’s interest in the wharf.

The pier was destined to have a short life and indeed was in ill shape just a few years after having been built. William Redmond Ryan, in his book, Personal Adventures in Upper and Lower California in 1848-49, described the pier as already becoming unsteady only three years after it was built: “We landed at the foot of an abrupt rock, on the top of which stood the Custom-house, a long, whitewashed building, of ancient date, and about 20 feet in length: Our way to it lay along a pier of most unsafe appearance, and considerably so in reality, being constructed of a few logs thrown loosely across a series of half rotten posts sunk into the sand, and liable to be dislodged by the ebb and flow of the tide,”


Fisherman’s Wharf, also known today as Wharf No. 1 and Old Fishermans Wharf, began its life in 1870. That was the year when the Pacific Coast Steamship Company built a 400-foot pier on the site of the original Larkin’s Wharf. The new wharf, known as the Pacific Steamship Wharf or simply as the Monterey Wharf, quickly became a center for shorefront activity. Company ships arrived four times a week bringing passengers and cargo while the wharf, now a port of call for many, became a base for a diverse group of nationalities and enterprises, especially those connected to the sea.

One group that used the wharf, at least for a period of time, was whalers who ventured out to capture a variety of whale species in the nearby waters (and eventually expanded to various areas along the coast). California’s first whaling station had been established at Monterey in 1854 by Captain J.P. Davenport (the Monterey Whaling Company). One year later a group of seventeen Portuguese whalers from the Azores led by Captain Joseph Clark (née Machado) formed what was usually called “the old company.” The Portuguese group dominated the industry although eventually there were four companies that operated in the bay. However, the numbers of whales were in decline and with the increase in the use of kerosene (instead of oil from whales) both demand and supply decreased. By the 1880s the whaling industry itself was in steep decline.

Another group, perhaps the earliest fishermen in the area, was the Chinese fishermen who were active in the bay by 1853. A fish camp was established at Point Lobos (south of today’s) Cannery Row, Pescadero (today’s Stillwater Cove), and at Point Alones (near the center of today’s Cannery Row). Activities varied, diving the shallow inshore water for abalone and kelp while fishing the bay’s deeper waters for a variety of species—primarily squid and shark but also bottom species like rockfish and lingcod. Chinese “junks” with their large lanteen sails were a common sight in local waters. The wharf would be used to send their catch (mostly dried squid, shark fins, and abalone) via coastal schooner to more distant locales, especially San Francisco.

A third group, arriving in the 1870s, were the Genovese Italians who used their small lateen-rigged sailboats (known as feluccas) primarily to troll for salmon and to fish for bottom species such as rockfish, lingcod and flatfish (halibut and flounder).

Eventually competition between the Chinese and Italian fisherman, a drastic decrease in the number of abalone, and anti-Chinese laws and actions (including burning down the Chinese fishing village), would lead to most Chinese leaving the area and a change in the fishing activity in the area.

The decrease in activity at the wharf, accentuated by the loss of business to railroads, led to less income at the wharf and increased neglect. This was true even though there were signs of a bludgeoning sardine industry that would soon need a seaworthy wharf.

In 1895 Frank E. Booth had opened the first cannery in Monterey (the Monterey Packing Company). The first fish to be canned were salmon but by 1900 he began to also can sardines. After disputes with his workers, and his plant being burned down, he brought in Knut Hovden, a Norwegian and graduate of Norway’s National Fisheries College, to upgrade his procedures. Hovden made several changes to the canning procedure but also in 1905 brought in Pietro Ferrante a Sicilian Italian from Black Diamond (today’s Pittsburg, California). Ferrante brought two new ideas and technology that would revolutionize the sardine business—new boats and new nets.

By 1906 the Genovese Italians began to be replaced by Sicilian Italians who used gasoline-powered boats that became known as Monterey Clippers (or simply putt-putts). The new boats were more powerful, more reliable (less dependent on capricious winds), and able to fish more days of the year. The Sicilians also brought in “lampara nets” that were much more efficient in capturing the sardines. Previously gill nets had been used which required removing each fish from the net by hand. The “lightning” lampara nets could encircle the sardines and then easily release them onto a boat. The combination of better boats and better nets paved the way for the sardine industry.

The future for the fishing industry began to look bright and in 1913 the city assumed ownership of the wharf, established the office of wharfinger, and gave the wharf a new name—Fisherman’s Wharf. The wharf soon became headquarters for the fishing fleet with several hundred fishermen bringing in a plethora of fish species from the deep, rich, Monterey Bay waters—salmon, rockfish, albacore, and, increasingly, sardines. Non-fish species like squid, crab and abalone added to the mix (with much of the abalone being brought in now by Japanese instead of Chinese fishermen). The wharf itself was home to fish warehouses, retail and wholesale fish markets, a fuel station, restaurants, and an abalone shell grinding business.

One more technological change was coming: by the 1920s the Sicilian Italians and their lampara boats (which had replaced the felaccas) began themselves to be replaced by larger and more efficient purse seiners. Sardines, fish so numerous that they were called the “Silver Tide,” increasingly began to dominate the local fisheries with new and larger canneries being built along shore (Steinbeck’s Cannery Row).

The name “Fisherman’s Wharf” became associated with the pier around 1913 after Monterey’s first sardine cannery was built just west of the pier. The earliest concessions on the wharf also began about this time.

“Pop” Ernest’s opened in 1919 just to the right of the wharf entrance and was for many years the pier’s only restaurant. Specializing in abalone steaks and chowder served in an abalone shell, the place was presided over by the always immaculately uniformed “Pop” Ernest Doelter in his trademarks, a crisp white apron and red Turkish fez. The German native over the years was said to have entertained aviator Charles Lindbergh, writer Jack London and movie actress Claudette Colbert. Another restaurant, The Pilot, was added across the way on the left, and for years these were the wharf’s only two dining establishments. “Pop” Ernest’s building, which later became Cerrito’s Restaurant, burned in 1975. The Pilot, which still stands, became the Harbor House gift shop.

—The wharf in winter, The Weekend Pinnacle, Gavilan College, March 20, 2006

Of course the wharf suffered occasional accidents, it seems part of the life of every wharf. The worst was one that took place on March 3, 1923 when, during inclement weather the S.S. San Antonio was attempting to dock in preparation to accepting the largest load of sardines ever to be shipped from Monterey—20,000 cases (that were sitting on the wharf). The ship slammed into the wharf causing 132 feet of the pier to collapse and spilling 10,000 cases of sardines into the sea. Soon after, the city reconstructed the damaged wharf adding an additional 750 feet and attaching a finger pier that extended eastward from the wharf.

City fathers then began to discuss the need for a new wharf both to relieve the congestion on Fisherman’s Wharf and to answer the needs of the expanding commercial fishing fleet. Bonds were voted and Wharf No. 2 (often simply called the New Wharf or the Municipal Wharf) was completed in 1926, just a hop-and-a-skip north of the original wharf. Soon the new wharf would contain fish warehouses and also be adopted by local recreational anglers as a place where they could wet their lines.

By the late ’30s, when sand around Fisherman’s Wharf created shallow unsafe conditions for the fishing boats, most commercial fishing activity moved over to Wharf No. 2. Once again Fisherman’s Wharf was threatened with closure. However, preservationists won out and the wharf was saved.

Then, with the start of World War II, and the influx of soldiers into nearby Fort Ord, the nature of the wharf changed. The wharf became a destination for those with weekend passes and tourist-related businesses, especially restaurants, became the main attractions on the wharf. With the collapse of the sardine fishery in the late ‘40s, the conversion to tourism proved to be a fortuitous event. By the mid-‘50s, gift shops, candy shops, an aquarium, and even a theater had been added to the life on the wharf and conversion seemed complete.

Today, tourism has become one of Monterey’s leading industries and Fisherman’s Wharf continues to be one of the “don’t miss” attractions for visitors to the area. There are thirty-five businesses on the wharf, including ten restaurants and two Sportfishing landings and the wharf is almost always busy.

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