MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) — Frank Quan walks the long pier to his fishing boat most days at China Camp in Marin County. He has been doing this for more than 80 years. Quan is the last resident of this historic fishing village.
Only now, there’s little to catch in these bay waters. “There’s nothing out there hardly anymore, “ Quan says sadly. “Last time we went out we caught three dozen shrimp, which with the amount of dragging we did we should have caught several hundred pounds.”
Quan grew up in China Camp. He is the grandson of one of the first residents from the 1800s. More than 500 chinese immigrants lived here — fishing for shrimp from the tidal mud flats along San Pablo Bay.
By 1880, China Camp was one of the more successful and larger fishing villages in the state. Three million pounds of shrimp were caught, dried and exported to China every year.
But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 changed all of that, and Chinese laborers were banned from immigrating to America. The government also imposed fishing restrictions against the Chinese who still lived in the camp.
By 1911, fishing operations shut down, but the demand for shrimp only grew. Quan’s parents met here, married, raised a family and in the 1930s resumed shrimp fishing when the restrictions were eased.
Quan helped out until he turned 17 and joined the navy. But he came back after his service:
“Yeah, dad wasn’t well,” Quan recalled. “And so, I came back, and I’m still here.”
He helped his mom fish, cook and sell shrimp. Aunts, uncles and cousins joined in the family business.
“Busy weekends, and ah, I met a lot of people,” Quan recalls, “And the cooks from Tadich Grill would come over here.”
Today, frank and his cousin run the lunch counter at China Camp, which is part of the state park system.
Shrimp sandwiches are the specialty. Except the last time he fished outside, he didn’t catch much, just a handful. So he gets his shrimp from Oregon.
By special arrangement with the park, Quan is allowed to live in the old shacks that were built here decades ago.
He never married, but stays busy watching over the village and making small repairs. “Got a boat that always, like a woman, she always needs lots of care,” Quan said, laughing.
After he’s gone, no one with his link to China Camp’s past will take over.
“Then after that who knows,” he wondered. “They’ll board the thing up, you never know.”
Quan said he doesn’t think about that and it doesn’t worry him. No one is immortal, he says. But nothing can take away his immortal ties to an important part of California history.