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Moss Landing, California: From Toxic Fish to Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

Feb 29, 2008
The day trippers going up and down California Highway 1 often miss the fun of a side trip to Moss Landing Harbor. It's a good stretch, a quick walk on the beach and maybe some seafood if you aren't paranoid about the mercury or whatever else may be inside those ocean critters.

Actually Moss Landing is no longer just a speed zone by the big power plant and the Little Baja trinket shop. The town is still surrounded by strawberry and artichoke fields but it is changing. In a couple of hours one can see almost all of Moss Landing and then be on your way.

But these days if you strike up a conversation with a local the odds are it will be with an oceanographer and not a commercial fisherman.

With Watsonville and Santa Cruz to the north and Salinas and Monterrey to the south, one would be hard pressed to find a better coastal California location than Moss Landing. It is also hard to believe that the same water that slowly winds out of the Elkhorn Slough eventually mixes in the Monterey Canyon a mile deep just off the coast from Moss Landing. And it's hard to believe that most of Moss Landing is just a sand bar.

Ever wonder what happens to a sand bar in an earthquake? In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake Moss Landing found out. Seawater began to filter up through the sand as if the sand bar itself were coming apart. What would happen in the really Big One?

But earthquakes didn't kill the fishing industry. Moss Landing is a rusting relic of a once powerful industry; there aren't as many fishing boats in the harbor anymore. Say it ain't so Joe but with all the science and technology that goes into the Monterey Bay, none yet has been able to figure out how to quickly save the fish.

As a consequence the shortened seasons and restricted fishing areas have all but eliminated the fishing industry. How many thousand tons of fish a year did Cannery Row once produce?

Just as the fishing jobs went the way of Davy Jones locker, research and more research has rapidly taken its place. What was once quaint and salted fish talk now is eco-tech speak, whatever that is. Rusty pick ups have been replaced by Audis and Volvos with eco bumper stickers. Salty fishermen have been replaced by oceanographers.

It used to be fun to walk around to the fishing and boating related stores and businesses although like the fish many are gone now too. The employees of Long Marine Lab or the Monterey Bay Marine Labs at Cal State don't buy bait, ice or tackle.

In fact, they might eat but they probably bring their own bean sprouts and tofu burritos. No deep fried fish and chips and Coronitas for this bunch...besides; they know too well what's in that fish as well as the grease it's fried in...

Seen as a tourist pit stop, Moss Landing ten years ago got in on the tail end of the antiques boom which brought a string of antiques stores to downtown Moss landing. Some are still limping along today. Business is down but the rents are better than Monterey or Carmel. The yearly Moss Landing Antiques Fair helps but weekdays are especially slow in the antiques and collectibles trade. Sort of like the fishing boats...pretty quiet.

Phil's Fish Market and Eatery is still cooking though like anything it has lost something as it got bigger. In the old days everything on the menu was good. Now it's hit or miss, even with old favorites like the seafood platter.

Somehow Phil couldn't scale from six tables to 50 and keep his quality. The fish just isn't as fresh but quality always proportionately diminishes with growth, no? Still, Phil's is one of the few restaurants left standing.

Clearly the biggest landmark and eyesore is the Moss Landing Power Plant, a couple of monster smokestacks designed to generate 560 Megawatts of electricity built right on the Elkhorn Slough Estuary.

There has been a fledgling movement by eco extremes to replace the eyesore with another power source; but unfortunately no one has been able to figure out just what that power source would be. The plant emits about one million tons of carbon dioxide annually and puts about a billion gallons of heated water into the cold Pacific Ocean daily.

Solar and wind power won't cut it here, though the winds on the Moss Landing section of the Monterey Bay are steady and strong. The fact is no one on the Central Coast is willing to give up electricity just yet. Fish maybe, but not electricity.

Let's just hope the really Big One doesn't come anytime soon our dear Moss Landing will still stay on the California map.
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of Jack D. Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog. Moss Landing,CA photos can be found at http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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