SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — A forgotten slice of Bay Area maritime history is being revived by a group of artists and historians retracing Chinese shrimp fishing industry in San Francisco Bay.
The team has been sailing on a replica Chinese junk to visit the sites used by the once-thriving industry. “The history of Chinese shrimp fishing has been primarily forgotten,” said project director Rene Yung, who leads a multimedia story-telling project called Chinese Whispers which looks at how the Chinese influence on the history of the Bay Area and the West.
For this portion of their project, Yung and her production crew are recording their voyages s they sail along some of the 26 old shrimp fishing villages from Suisun to Redwood City.
The plan is to use all the audio and video footage from the sailings for an exhibit at the San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park next fall.
The team traces Chinese shrimping from its start in the 1850s to 1911, when restrictions on exports and fishing nets shut down the industry. “We can’t re-create history, but we can try to re-trace and re-imagine and most importantly, re-tell the story,” said Yung.
Using the replica of a Chinese shrimp boat built a decade ago along San Francisco Bay allows the researchers to experience the wind, tide and other variables faced by the fishermen of the time.
“It really celebrates the skill and know-how of the fishermen, really brings their experience to mind,” said John Muir, curator with the Maritime National Historical Park.
The 43-foot vessel is named the Grace Quan, after the mother of 89-year-old Frank Quan, a former shrimp fisherman who remembers the heyday of the time.
Quan’s grandfather ran a store at the China Camp Village, home to hundreds of Chinese shrimp fishermen along the shores of San Pablo Bay in Marin County. “We were processing 5,000 pounds a day,” recalled Quan.
Now, as China Camp Village’s last remaining resident, Quan sails with the research crew and appreciates the renewed focus on his legacy. “We get a lot of younger Chinese really enjoying the history,” he said.
Next month, visitors can learn more about the Bay Area Chinese shrimp-fishing industry at three day-long programs at the Richmond Craneway Pavilion, San Francisco Hunters Point EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park, and China Camp in San Rafael.
Find out more at chinese-whispers.org.