April 05, 2011

China Camp, the story of, part 2 of 2

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photo by Donald Kinney

[text taken from the California State Parks story-boards at China Camp Museum]


The shrimp fishery once again thrived into the 1930s and 1940s but on a smaller scale.

At China Camp a small community with the Quan family as its center remained. The Quans rented out boats for sport fishing, ran a small restaurant, and continued operating the last Chinese shrimp fishery in San Pablo Bay.

In this more modern era of the shrimp fishery the Quan Brothers heated the shrimp-cooking vat with fuel oil instead of wood. They ran a shaker table, winnowing machine, and crusher using electricity, and experimented with drying shrimp indoors using gas-heated air. What remains here today is due to their effort and perseverance.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney


Chinese shrimp fishermen established their own "fish camps" where they lived and worked in isolation from other communities. They maintained their culture, language, and traditions, fishing as their ancestors had done, and prospered.

In 1870, 76 men aged 13 - 62 lived in the China Camp area. Ten years later, 469 people lived here in a vibrant community, with 30 women, 31 children, a school teacher, a barber, two gardeners, and three general stores. Passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, a federal law prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers and denying naturalization to all Chinese immigrants, changed the nature of life and community in the Chinese shrimp fishing camps. By 1900, the population of the camps here had declined to 122, with only 79 fishermen.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney


The camp crew boiled the entire catch. After cooking, they sorted the shrimp by size using a round screen made of bamboo and hardware cloth, then spread them out to dry in the sun. Workers crushed the dried shrimp to loosen heads and shells from the meat, then cleaning them by winnowing. Both meat and meal were bagged for shipment; netted bags left China Camp bound for China.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney


The Chinese fishermen sailed their redwood fishing boats to the mudflats. They dropped sail and set the large, triangular nets by staking them into the mud in long lines. The mouths of the nets were set open to the oncoming tide to catch shrimp swept along by the current.

As the tide slackened, the fishermen raised the nets and dumped the live shrimp into baskets that were then stored in the boat. The nets were reset in the opposite direction for the next tidal cycle. After two tidal cycles, about twelve hours, the holds were full and fishermen returned to camp to process the haul.

click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney


The fertile waters of San Francisco and San Pablo bays have provided a hospitable environment for shrimp. These small, long-tailed crustaceans are spawned in the bay's deepest water. The young shrimp that escape being eaten by predators immediately head toward safer shallow water at the edge of the bay. They mature in the marshes, then return to deep water to spawn.

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