Located at the confluence of Elkhorn Slough and the Pacific Ocean, the California coastal town of Moss Landing was one of California’s most prosperous whaling ports in the 1800s. Fishing, fish processing plants, and canneries soon became the heart and soul of the town’s economy. To transport the fish to other cities in California and beyond, the Southern Pacific Railroad put down train tracks, which still run alongside the slough today.
In the early ‘50s, the whaling and cannery industries crashed, so the town cut a deal with PG&E to build a power plant, which became the second largest power plant in the world at the time.
Fast forward to today, and the town of Moss Landing is undergoing a major transformation, reports the Mercury News. With a population of 200, Moss Landing is seeing its traditional commercial fishing roots disappear as the town becomes an important destination for marine research and ecotourism.
Traditional Fishing on the Decline
Today, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MNARI) owns most of Moss Landing Harbor, and with property values higher than ever, there’s less room for affordable infrastructure for local fisherman to process their catches.
“Before we used to have markets around here that you could bring 30,000 pounds in and they would cut it and then they would distribute it,” Moss Landing fisherman Jerid Rold said. But today, his small fishing company sells his fish whole, or sends them away to be cut up in places as far away as Japan.
The regulatory landscape has changed as well, due to years of over-fishing in Monterey Bay. Today, there are shorter windows of time that local fisherman can catch certain species of fish.
Geoff Shester, director for the non-profit Oceana’s California Campaign in Monterey, says that overfishing “had devastating consequences for the fishermen here. A lot of them weren’t able to survive, and I think it’s still very hard.”
Lithium-Ion Batteries, Water Desalination, and Cannabis Cultivation Take Root
Moss Landing is being transformed in the new era of energy efficiency and the legalization of marijuana.
PG&E and the Texas-based power company Vistra, which merged with former owner Dynegy, are joining forces with electric vehicle company Tesla to build a massive lithium-ion battery plant in the area.
Directly across the street from the power plant, new cannabis entrepreneurs are growing recreational and medicinal marijuana in a facility with 500,000 square feet of greenhouses.
Gavin Kogan, the co-founder of Groupo Flor, a cannabis collective that is instrumental in creating the industry in Moss Landing, says the cool coastal climate is ideal for indoor cannabis cultivation. Kogan’s vision for Moss Landing is a one of a “new economy — clean agriculture, clean manufacturing, and resources used to promote the environment rather than take advantage of it.”
On the east side of town, plans are being putting into place to build a desalination plant called the The DeepWater Desal Plant, which will transform ocean water into drinking water. One of the project’s partners, David Armanasco, says the seawater may also be used to cool a data center and for fish farming.
Ecotourism and Marine Research Grow in Importance
Recreation boats and scientific research vessels now dominate the 600-slip Moss Landing Harbor, where commercial fishing vessels used to prevail.
Today, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute is a world-renowned center for advanced research in marine biology and other ocean sciences.
And the natural beauty and abundance of marine life is attracting a growing audience of eco tourists. Kayakers enjoy the sights from Elkhorn Slough and look for sea otters, and whale watchers take recreation boats out to sea, where whales can be spotted year-round.
All of the new activity is naturally spurring a housing and retail boom in the area. New apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail space are being developed. Plus, a building that’s been sitting empty for years is now being transformed into a three-story hotel that caters to ecotourists.
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