Ed Ricketts Covers the Waterfront
20 Years

Edward F. Ricketts
Monterey Peninsula Herald Annual Sardine Edition
February 27, 1942
1938 Photo of Ed Ricketts

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club, Wetlands Action Network, National Audubon Society

Ed Ricketts Covers the Waterfront for 20 Years
Co-author of "Sea of Cortez" Began Life on the Peninsula as a Gambler
(Because He Kept Such Queer Hours)
Challenged by a sentry the other night as I drove back to the laboratory, I was recalling similar encounters with puzzled officials nearly two decades ago, and remembering how things had changed during these years.

I must regard myself now as an old-timer on the peninsula waterfront. When I first came here 19 years ago my profession was regarded as even odder than it is now. When we lived in the woods, it was rumored that I must be a gambler (this was in Pacific Grove, more strictly religious than now) - I kept such queer hours!

After working nearly all night, before dawn one morning I drove rapidly through town in a very noisy car to return to the ocean some still-living starfish from which I had been taking eggs and sperm. A police car picked me up and trailed me to Arch Rock where I threw the animals back into the water - subject for possible experiments. I have no doubt that officer was completely mystified. It didn't make sense. How could I say: "I have been raising starfish eggs, and now I'm done with the parents."

When I first started studying the animals along this rich waterfront, the breakwater and the big wharf were still being built. Things are so changed now it's hard for me to remember how they were. Sardine fishing was done from small lampara boats. Most of the canneries were still to be built. Loeb Laboratory was non-existent; Hopkins Marine Station consisted of the present old building only. Few, if any, of the streets were paved. When our car broke down, which was often, we used Monterey's near relative of the Toonerville Trolley. The manager of the local electric company, since merged with P.G.& E., lived, I understand, in a house on 2nd street which I subsequently got to know. The ceiling of the living room had more than a hundred electric light sockets. It must have been a strange sight all lit up. It was his son, so I heard, who operated the single trolley car that was always getting off the track.

At that time none of the big office buildings and hotels had been built; the Professional Building, Forest Hill and San Carlos Hotesl, the Ocean View Hotel on Cannery Row, the present movie theaters. There was a series of big fires culminating only a few years ago in the waterfront conflagration in which I lost everything including, literally my shorts. The old Del Monte Hotel, on the site of the present modern structure, burned almost to the ground late one night, and within a few weeks one of the canneries was entirely destroyed, there was a threatening forest fire at Pebble Beach, and the Associated Oil tanks burned in New Monterey. A great steamship ran up on the beach in Pacific Grove. In those days mosts of the old adobe were unused ruins: the Custom House, the old whaling station and the First Theatre had still to be renovated. Pop Ernest's and Booth's Cannery were landmarks even then.

The fresh fish market was supplied mostly by the Chinese, whose squid drying activities were olfactory horrors on the road to Salinas. Even then, the Italians controlled the sardine fishing; I cannot recall any Jugo-Slavs, now important in the industry, I was eager to get specimens of hagfish (appropriately called "slime eels" by fishermen) from deep water offshore, and was referred to a Chinese who became afterwards a good friend. He wanted a scandalous price, one dollar apiece. Finally we settled on the more sensible rate of 10 each, and he got me quickly all I could use. Years later I pieced together the answer. In the late 90s, when the Chinese village was located where Hopkins Marine Station now stands a wealthy scientist from Columbia University visited here. He had offered the Chinese fishermen one dollar each for hagfish, and man named Otac had supplied him, first having to devise suitable gear. Some twenty five years later when I came along, I contacted Otac's nephew, who, then a boy, had helped to fish for specimens of this sort. In all those years, that shining price stuck in his mind. Later, a British biologist, hoping that I might procure eggs of this hagfish for him, ransacked the European second-hand bookstores to find and send me Dr. Dean's paper on the development of these animals, then out of print. There Otac was mentioned, and there were illustrations of the equipment he devised for this purpose - equipment used again probably for the first time since, to supply my similar needs.

I wanted sharks. Hovden told me how to go about it. They had then no commercial value except as fertilizer. Now some species are among the most valued of fish, the livers bring fabulous prices from the vitamin concentrate industry, and soon these animals will be depleted. Later on, Vito Bruno, who operated a drag-boat, brought sharks in to me by the ton, along with many queer beasts from the deep-sea bottom. I went out myself on the boats occasionally (often with results not encouraging, to delicate stomachs), scoured the bay in a row boat for jellyfish and other floating organisms; got curious animals even from the San Francisco dragboats - again very much troubled by that famous indisposition related to small boats and bad weather; collected in the then-wilderness down the coast and made long trips into Mexico, Canada, and Alaska, coming back each time to a larger town.

Monterey had become one of the chief fishing ports of the country, of the world. Canneries fought for space along the limited waterfront. There was some talk of utilizing the beach at Seaside. Schaeffer moved his reduction plant out there, only to have it burn up. The specter of sardine depletion arose, was argued about and is having or will have to be faced.

So these twenty years have passed for me kaleidoscopically. An old man could be expected to record such changes, but I am only forty-five; things have happened very rapidly during these times everywhere, but particularly here. I wonder what greater changes will have taken place in 1962. In any case, we can be sure that 1941-42 marks, for better or worse, the start of a new period.

Concluding Remarks
Robert Roy van de Hoek

Naturalist, Marine Biologist, Field Biologist, Geographer

The first time that I had heard that Ed Ricketts wrote this 1942 article for the Monterey Herald was via Joel Hedgpeth's writings in The Outer Shores. Dennis Copeland, archivest and historian at Monterey Library, was not only helpful but most kind in assisting me to locate the article. And so now, for the first time, for everyone to read, is Ed Ricketts' waterfront article on Cannery Row. It is presented to you, for science, education, and awareness to protect us from fishermen raping the ocean, that I compiled and scribed this article. Ed Ricketts knew that fishermen were destroying our oceans. It was bold for a marine biologist of 60 years ago, during World War II, to question the sardine overfishing. The year, 1962 has come and gone, 40 years ago, and things are changing even faster, as the earth continues to be exploited by too many people and their need of pushing all other living beings out of the way.

Ed Ricketts was a native of Chicago, Illinois. When he left Chicago in 1923 to come to California, he already had influences imprinted upon him, by being from this midwestern large city on one of the "Great Lakes." The fisheries of Lake Michigan had already collapsed from overharvesting of fish during his youth and college years. He had studied at the University of Chicago, and he no doubt had explored parts of Lake Michigan shores as a student. I suspect that he visited and did some study at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Ed Ricketts interest in the Pacific Northwest and its cultures of native people that built totem poles, may have had its incubation in Chicago. His seeing the two totem poles in the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History must have had some influence. When I was a child, growing up in the 1960s, I was fascinated with totem poles as my parents had taken us to British Columbia in a chevrolet on a vacation. When I saw a totem pole in 1993 on another trip with my parents to the northern part of Vancouver Island, my interest and awareness was again initiated. And then, this July, 2002, while visiting Chicago, I again saw totem poles in the Chicago Field Museum which brought home to me again the spiritual and cultural connections to land and sea. It seems to me that nostalgia and the mythology of Ed Ricketts must also have played some of the same roles in his mythology and nostalgia of "times past." Joel Hedgpeth in his biography of Ed Ricketts, that he presents in his book, The Outer Shores, includes a photograph of totem poles and discussion of them from Ed Ricketts own explorations in British Columbia to Vancouver Island and elsewhere. Here is a quote by Ed Ricketts that Joel Hedgpeth presented in The Outer Shores, part 1, page 53: "If ever there was a place where you're surrounded by the ghosts of a powerful people now dead or changed, here it is."

The drawing that accompanies the article by Ed Ricketts shows him posed with a beard. The caption reads: "Edward F. Ricketts - who has operated the Pacific Biological Laboratories on cannery row for 19 years, tells of the changes he has witnessed along the waterfront during that period in an accompanying article written especially for the Herald Sardine Edition. The drawing of Ricketts (above) was done from life by Richie Lovejoy of Monterey." The subtitle by-line of the article reads as follows: Co-author of "Sea of Cortez" Began Life on the Peninsula as a Gambler-(Because He Kept Such Queer Hours). The Editor's Note is interesting to quote here as follows: (Edward F. Ricketts, who owns and operates the Pacific Biological Laboratories on Cannery Row, has seen many changes take place during the 19 years he has lived and worked there. He kindly consented to write some of his impressions for the Herald Sardine Edition, and the Herald is proud to present this article to its readers. Ricketts is the co-author, with John Steinbeck, of "The Sea of Cortez," published last December by Viking Press). Just two years before he wrote this article, Ed Ricketts traveled with John Steinbeck to the Sea of Cortez. And two years after Ed Ricketts wrote this article, in 1944, Cannery Row, was written, but not published until 1945. In 1945, after the War, Ed Ricketts traveled again to British Columbia. In the end and in this ending, there goes a marine naturalist and explorer, from Chicago to Pacific Grove, with side-field trips to the Sea of Cortez and the British Columbia outer shores, as part of the journey of life of Edward Ricketts. Ed Ricketts was to die a few years later, in 1948, in an automobile accident with a train in Monterey, very near to his home, lab, and great tidepool. The Sea Otters began arriving in Monterey soon after his death, like a spirit-premonition. Joel Hedgpeth in The Outer Shores, (p.8, volume 2) wrote about the otter and its ecology balancing factor. In a current biography of John Steinbeck, the book ends with the family spreading the ashes at Pacific Grove as Sea Otters explored the tidepools for food. While Ed Ricketts explored British Columbia, he had a close encounter with a sea otter, which he included in his unpublished field notes. It would have been marvelous to know what Ed Ricketts would have written about the presence of the sea otter again at Cannery Row. I suspec that he would have been impressed and think it was marvelous that part of the ecology of the seashore was restored and recovered. He would have asked, perhaps, "do the come on shore yet to rest and nurture their young."