Chapter 7
I Wanted to be a Baseball Player:
The Japanese Fishermen of Monterey Bay

By Timothy Thomas, Maritime Museum of Monterey/Monterey History & Art Association

Skipper Frank Manaka at the helm of his boat, Western Explorer. Manaka Collection, Maritime Museum of Monterey.
"I wanted to be a baseball player not a fisherman," said pioneering Monterey Japanese fisherman, Frank Manaka. When Joe DiMaggio, baseball player for the San Francisco Seals, and son of a Sicilian fisherman from Black Diamond, California (now Pittsburg, CA) came to Monterey in 1920, Frank thought, "If Joe can be a baseball player, then why can't I?" Frank's father had other ideas and so started a remarkable career of more than 50 years fishing the California waters. But it started long before that spring day on the baseball diamonds of Monterey.

After the United States imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882*, the number of Japanese immigrants to the West Coast increased in large numbers. One of those immigrants was a man named Otosaburo Noda, who settled in Watsonville in 1895. One day, while working in Monterey as a lumberjack for the Pacific Improvement Company (precursor of the Pebble Beach Company), Noda noticed the incredible variety of fish and red abalone in the Monterey Bay. Nobody was utilizing this resource. He gave up being a lumberjack, moved to Monterey, and started a small fishing colony made up of 67 fishermen from Wakayama, Japan. Noda was so taken with Monterey that he even wrote to the Japanese Agriculture and Commerce Department about the marine abundance. Over the next twenty years, the Japanese dominated the fishing industry in Monterey Bay.

The Japanese fished for both abalone and salmon, but salmon was king. In August of 1909, the end of salmon season, the Monterey Daily Cypress reported that there were 185 salmon boats fishing the bay; 145 of these boats were Japanese- owned. Monterey is most famous for sardines. Everyone knows that it was Sicilian fishermen who fished for sardines. This is only part of the story. Around the turn of the last century, the salmon fisheries along the Sacramento River were not doing very well. But due to some fishing gear changes, coupled with the arrival of the pioneering Japanese fishermen to the Monterey Bay, large salmon landings began in Monterey. Salmon processors on the Sacramento River heard of those large landings and sent F.E. Booth to investigate. Mr. Booth was so impressed he opened a small cannery at the foot of the Monterey Wharf. Unfortunately for Booth, the Japanese fishermen already had good contracts with the fish markets in San Francisco. Booth stuck around and eventually contract to buy salmon from the Japanese fishermen. He also began to fish salmon every spring, and F.E. Booth continued to buy it. There were also many Japanese families that lived in Monterey year-round. The Manaka family moved to Monterey from San Francisco in 1906, hoping to cash in on this silvery bounty. As a young boy, Frank Manaka began fishing with his father and uncle on their small salmon trawler, Ohio #1. When not fishing, Frank attended Monterey schools and played baseball. Upon his graduation from Monterey High School in 1925, Frank's dreams of making a living playing baseball collided with his father's dreams that he would join the family business. Instead of playing baseball, he became a Monterey fisherman.

Before 1915, most of the salmon caught in Monterey was shipped to Europe. Ninety percent of the catch went to Germany. Most of the sardine supply in the United States was coming from Europe, primarily from France. In 1914, World War I broke out, cutting off the market for the salmon going to Germany and sardines coming from France. Fisherman began to fish sardine heavily along the West Coast, making sardine the largest harvest fish in the history of the United States. In 1929, Frank Manaka was one of the first Japanese to own a sardine boat, the Ohio #3, and in the off-season, traveled to Southern California to fish tuna. Although the Sicilian fishermen made up the majority of sardine fishermen, recent research shows that in any given year the Japanese made up between 20 to 25 percent of the sardine fleet. Many Japanese were coming from Southern California, living on their boats or in a small Japanese hotel by the Monterey Wharf. By the-mid 1930s, the Japanese fishermen earned the respect of the Sicilian fishermen and it was not uncommon to find both Japanese and Sicilian crews working together.

Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf as it looked in 1945. Bancroft Library.

Japanese American fishing boats in the 1930's. Maritime Museum of Monterey.

Monterey Wharf as it was in 1945. Bancroft Library.

The relationship between the two groups changed on December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Frank Manaka was forced to sell his boat. When the evacuation orders came, he did not want to be interned at an internment camp, so he moved to Utah, where he formed a union of Japanese carpenters. After the war, Frank returned to Monterey. This time he had a newer and bigger boat, the Western Explorer, and was welcomed home by the Monterey fishing community. When the sardine fishery collapsed in 1950, he moved to San Pedro Southern California and began fishing for tuna. Several Monterey Sicilian fishermen followed Frank and he taught them how to fish tuna. Frank continued to fish until the early 1980s. Now retired and still living in San Pedro, he fondly remembers those days of fishing on the Monterey Bay and the day that Joe DiMaggio played ball in his hometown.

Resource Materials

Books for younger students:

Mochizuki, Ken (1999) Baseball Saved Us, BT Bound, ISBN: 0785764607. Reading level, 4th grade and up. A young boy, "Shorty," tells how baseball was a diversion from the dire situation in which the camp's inhabitants found themselves. After improvising a baseball diamond, uniforms, and equipment, they played games.

Soentpiet, Chris K. 1998, So Far From the Sea, Clarion Books, ISBN: 0395720958, Reading level. 4th grade and up. Laura Iwasaki and her family visit Manzanar in 1972 before their upcoming move to Boston. Her grandfather, a fisherman who loved the sea, was buried at Manzanar. This book is a retelling of the family's experiences in internment camp.

Books for older students and researchers:

Coventry, Kim, Monterey Peninsula: The Golden Age (2002) Arcadia Publishing, ISBN: 0738520802. From the building of Hotel Del Monte in 1880 to the completion of the Pacific Coast Highway in 1937, connecting the peninsula to the redwood forests of Big Sur and San Simeon beyond, Monterey Peninsula history is the story of the development of a collection of coastal communities with 200 rare photos. Available at

Lundy, A.L. (1997) The California Abalone Industry: A Pictorial History, Best Publications, ASIN: 0941332578. This compelling book, with many never before published photos, describes the California abalone industry over a 100-year period. Included are interviews with Japanese American divers and boat captains.

Lydon, Sandy (1997) The Japanese in the Monterey Bay Region: A Brief History, Capitola Books, ISBN: 093231905X.


Furusato: The Lost Village of Terminal Island (2006) David Metzler, Allyson Nakamoto, Producers. This documentary tells the story of a vanished time and place &#nbsp; the fishing village at Terminal Island, San Pedro, CA (near Los Angeles.) The film shows what life was like for a fishing community in Southern California. The story is told by the Nisei generation, who recall an idyllic, innocent, though hard working childhood before the evacuation. (42 minutes) Available at

Return to the Valley (2003) from KTEH San Jose PBS. Available from KTEH as a DVD with many additional features, this documentary is about the experiences of Japanese Americans returning to the Santa Clara and Salinas Valleys and Central Coast region after the war. The DVD has a bonus feature of Dave Tatsuno's Topaz Memories, the only full color film shot at camp by an internee. Return to the Valley focuses on the Japanese American community and the inability to resume large scale farming and fishing. (57 minutes) Go to

Diamonds in the Rough (2000), Nisei Baseball Research Project, available through Japanese American National Museum store, or This documentary is the story of a legacy in which baseball helped transcend bigotry and hatred to bring pride and respect to Japanese-Americans who loved the game. Though not about farming, this program does show a facet of the lives of Issei and the love of the "American Pastime." (35 minutes)

Frank Manaka's boat, Western Explorer in the 1950's. Maritime Museum of Monterey.

Websites and Organizations:

Maritime Museum of Monterey/Monterey History & Art Association #5 Custom House Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940
phone: (831)-372-2608, fax: (831) 655-3054

Densho Project, The Japanese American Legacy Project
This archive tells much of the story of Japanese Americans in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane region. There are many great photos as well.

The Japanese American National Museum
369 East First Street, Los Angeles, California 90012
phone: (213) 625-0414, fax: (213) 625-1770

National Archives This on-line area is specific to the Japanese American experience during World War II. Included are many links to a database listing the names of most of the internees (based on 1940s records), Nisei military records, and twenty days of Congressional testimony which eventually led to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

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