Terminal Island, also referred to as East San Pedro Fish Harbor, is remembered with nostalgia as a distinct Japanese fishing village with its own culture and lifestyle. Upon viewing the bay, an early group of Southern Pacific Railroad laborers yearned to utilize their skills from Japan and began an abalone cooperative at White Point in the San Pedro Bay in the 1890s. Although abalone diving was promising, lack of demand for abalone in the U.S. curtailed its success. Soon after, Japanese fishermen built small rowboats to explore the San Pedro Bay for tuna and used 6-foot poles for their catch. By 1907, the Japanese fishing village of Fish Harbor was established with its first houses built on pilings along the shore of the main channel. Within a few years, the Japanese population on Terminal Island had increased to 600. The tight-knit community, living in isolation, developed their own blend of Japanese and English, referred to as “kii-shu ben”, a dialect from the Kii district in Wakayama, the township where many had immigrated.
While small motorboats increased the distance traveled for their catch, Japanese immigrants devised an unprecedented fishing technique. They would send an advance boat to scout for schools of albacore tuna, and catch the anchovies and sardines the tuna followed for live bait. Then, a fishing vessel with a team of fishermen would release the bait and spear the tuna using short bamboo poles with hooks while standing on the steel walkways near the hulls and toss them on to the deck of the boat. Due to local fishermen’s high yield of tuna, a number of fish canneries began to open on Terminal Island. By the 1930s, the Japanese community had increased to 2,000 with most of the men employed as fishermen and the women working in the canneries. At its height in 1942, the Nikkei population had grown to 3,000, just prior to its abrupt demise following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
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