Siting on the corner of 25th and Wilshire Blvd, Scuba Haus was both a neighborhood icon and local diving staple for over 50 years. Starting today it joins a growing list of old-school California dive shops that have shuttered in the Santa Monica Bay-area over the past decade including New England Divers, Blue Cheer, and American Divers. Whether it’s rising rent, retail fatigue, or a sign of changing times, we now have one less place to get a regulator serviced, a tank vip’ed, or to try on a wet suit free without worrying that you would have to ship it back if it doesn’t work out. Something to consider the next time you’re shopping on line.
At least the ocean isn’t closing any time soon. We’ll see you out there.
There are few things in life that a true Waterman loves more than diving. God, country, and mother do not immediately come to mind. Neither does holding hands nor long, reflective walks on the beach. A dive bar on the other hand is a part of the genetic make-up of every great diver. There is “B-A-R” in their DNA. That’s why I feel like a little piece of me died this week when word came down that the legendary Mermaid Bar in Hermosa Beach has shuttered it’s doors after 70 years.
Smelling of beach sweat and desperation with a decor that probably could give you tetanus just by looking at it, The Mermaid was your one stop shop for ice cold beer and a place to put your feet up and your butt down after a long day on the water. It wasn’t just a smarmy and poorly lit bar either. It was also a place of innovations. There was quarter beer night, dollar pitcher night, and pretty much everyone’s favorite, Blackout night. It was magnificent.
Now I know a lot of you never went to The Mermaid and now, sadly, you never will. I guess the point of this getting all nostalgic and crap is that places like this are where you make memories. Horrible,awful memories. You also make some fun ones as well I suppose but I digress. So let’s say so long to “The Old Maid.” I never figured she’d go out of business. I always assumed she would be torched for the insurance money. Just remember to enjoy your own special dives while you can and then take one last look at The Mermaid.
For over 40 years, starting in the 1920’s, San Diego was the Tuna capital of the the world. With a massive fleet of fishing boats and a complex of processing plants supplying tuna to a hungry world, the fishery was the third-largest employer in San Diego to only the US Navy and the aerospace industry. It was truly a way of life for mid-century San Diegans. The good times didn’t last however. With the end of WWII, major corporations started buying out the local processors and alienating the independent fishermen. Japanese imports further eroded the market and concerns over dolphins made the move to offshore fishing cheaper, driving the final nail in the coffin for what was once the late, great Tuna Town. by 1984 it was all but over.
It’s hard to imagine that at one time abalone were as thick as 70’s shag carpet on the rocky reefs of California. Native American coastal tribes, not having actual 70’s shag carpet, gathered them as a staple of their diet and culture. Excavated shell mounds marked the sites of tribal villages along the coastline. Later, Asian immigrants established major fish camps as they started to dive the local shallows in pursuit of this shelled delicacy which later developed into a major commercial fishery after World War 2. In fact, at the peak of the commercial fishery in the 1960’s, California commercial fishermen were landing 4.6 million pounds annually. This was a true ocean love story. Boy meets ab. Boy harvests and sells ab. People saute and then eat ab. It was an ocean fishery success that no one thought could ever end until it did. Serial depletion and natural phenomenon made an unholy alliance that combined to crash the fishery starting in the 1980’s , shutting it down commercially statewide and recreationally south of Pt. Yankee by the mid 90’s.As an end result, over 25 years worth of divers were certified in Southern California not knowing what an abalone was because they’ve never seen one.
As far as biological extinctions go, this one produced mixed results. Die hards could still take them recreationally along the isolated and intimidating north coast. Southern and Central California kind of moved on with both commercial and recreational endeavors becoming more focused on the spiny lobster and red urchin. It was almost as if everyone just kind of threw up their hands and said “okay, what’s next?”
It started as kind of a hail Mary. What if we could restore the fishery? What do we need to know to make this happen? How do we then physically do it? Reseeding hundreds of miles of nearshore habitat with a enough abalone to produce a viable broadcast spawning population seemed, on the surface, pretty far fetched (***Broadcast spawning means all the abs throw their stuff in the air(or water) like they just don’t care and hope there is opposite sex genetic material getting expelled close enough to connect.)
This is when necessity called in those that can try to make it happen. This is when necessity called in the scientists.
Right now in California, there is an amazing array of scientists working on restoration of the abalone population. Work is being done by federal agencies, state institutions, and non profits to study and ultimately restore this missing part of today’s kelp forest landscape. Listed below are just a few of the projects going on that you should know about that are working to make our nearshore waters a healthier, and more importantly, and a more balanced place. So read a paragraph, learn a little, and think a lot about the types of programs and science you should be supporting. The ocean you save could be your own. See you out there.
In a world that seems to be more filled with uncertainty than ever these days, we at California Fine Diving would like to give a little perspective on where we in California are in terms of ocean health. This photo, provided by the Mendocino Historical Society, shows a couple of dapper turn-of-the-20th-century fishermen with what I think we can all agree is a pretty good days effort. From a cursory look, we can probably also agree what they lack in modern fishing technology, they more than make up for with ties and bowler hats. Looking good and fishing good.
Now I’m not posting this just because it’s a great shot( it is wicked cool though). I’m posting it because It gives us a sense of something we’ve lost in terms of abundance and variety that we’ll probably never get back. Look closely at the picture. There are more giant sea bass(GSB) in this picture from one day of fishing than most divers saw during the entire decade of the 90’s. I’m also not saying all is lost BTW. We are seeing a lot of species making a comeback. Divers regularly see GSB these days even if the populations are probably not back to historic levels that existed when this photo was taken. I’m pointing out by posting this picture, however, that we’ve barely started working our way back to a place where we can say our local waters are as healthy as we want them to be. We have to keep working on it. The only way to do this is to stay involved and active. We can’t count on anyone or any entity other than ourselves. We’re all in this together and the ocean you save will be your own.
As divers, we take for granted sometimes that there are people out there trying to protect the ocean for us. We assume that when there is a major issue or event like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that every acronym in the government and science community is going to leap up and solve it, and for the most part they try to do just that. But what about the gradual declines of ecosystems that take years to happen and often longer to make right? Who deal with those problems. It might surprise you to know that in Los Angeles, divers like you are the ones making a difference.
Located on eastern most tip of Los Angeles County, the Palos Verdes Peninsula is a special place to divers. It’s where scuba first took off in America over 70 years ago and why not? It was beautiful with lush kelp forest teeming with life, providing both a physical and spiritual bounty to the adventurous new underwater water explorers diving it. It was almost too good to last so naturally it didn’t. Between it’s proximity to the largest commercial port on the West Coast, a local population with millions of people and growing, and it’s role as super convenient chemical dump site for Monsanto, we pretty much managed to turn this underwater paradise into a visual study of what the moon might look like under 80 feet of water. Now fixing a problem like a burnt out light bulb is easy. When the old bulb is gone, replace it with a new one. Replacing, repairing, and protecting hundreds of hectares of burned out kelp forest isn’t quite that easy.
There have been lots of work done over the past 45 years by a lot of different groups and organizations to repair and restore this once pristine ocean habitat. Success has been limited despite the effort but right now there is group of recreational divers and a concerned and dedicated conservation group working to change all that.
Ian Jacobson is the Kelp Project Coordinator for Los Angeles Waterkeeper, an organization dedicated to insuring the quality of water in and around the county of Los Angeles. He’s more than a scientist however. More accurately, he’s a leader, working with a well-trained team of volunteer divers to restore the denuded kelp forests along the Palos Verdes Peninsula. If he hasn’t got his team controlling an out-of-control purple urchin population, then he’s got them planting giant kelp stipes or vacuuming invasive sargassum(an evil invasive weed). There is always plenty to do and making headway towards recovery is a constant struggle. And it never stops. When work needs to be done, it needs to be done. And it’s paid off handsomely. Over 15 acres of kelp forest have been repaired to become the amazing habitat it once was. For more information about this successful program you can look here.
So what’s the problem and how can all divers help? Simple. Working with volunteers isn’t as cheap as it sounds and the overhead can really add up. Funding is always an issue. Right now the Los Angeles Waterkeeper Kelp Project is in a financial crisis. They need $20,000 to sustain the project until Spring when new funding to continue their work off Palos Verdes will become available. Good ideas and volunteers are always welcome as well. The team is always looking for helping hands.
I’ve always been a big believer that divers are the best stewards of the ocean that any community has. We get so much pleasure from our escapes beneath the waves that it’s only natural that we would want to protect our marine paradise. Supporting the Kelp Restoration Project and Ian’s team is a great way to do it. And some day, when the waters off the peninsula are once again home to magnificent kelp forests supporting the marine life it’s supposed to, you’ll know, when it mattered, you made a difference.
I think I love abalone. Usually it’s sauteed in butter and wine and other times it’s being pleasantly surprised when I find one on a dive just hanging out between a rock and a hard case. Mainly I love them though because they are such a unique keystone species that’s integral to the grand ecosystem of marine life here in California. That being said, the complete destruction of abalone to the point of biological extinction here in the southern California bight does depress me. Whether it was pink, white, black, red, or green, this mollusk that once carpeted the local sub tidal zone and supported a huge multi-million dollar fishery is only a memory these days. It collapsed as it was fished to it’s sustainable edge because we we were confident we knew what we were doing. All the while as we fished our way through one abalone species after another, nobody counted on Mother Nature waiting in the wings with a particularly lethal strain called withering foot to provide the final nails in the coffin for the ab.
So basically they’re gone. Never to be seen again for the most part. It’s a hugely lamentable loss but I guess we have to accept it. Or do we?
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, South Gate Middle School was profiled for their efforts to raise green abalone in a classroom aquaculture environment. These efforts are are part of a larger program that challenges students to understand ocean sciences in ways that engage them personally. Developed by Nancy Caruso, a marine biologist and executive director of the nonprofit Get Inspired Inc, the program is operating in over a half -a-dozen schools in the southland and would like to expand to include a larger ocean abalone restoration project and they need your help, both personally and financially. So read the article below and also check out Get Inspired Inc and Nancy Caruso. It’s mission is something that all people who love the ocean can get behind.
With the recent passing of Body Glove founder Bob Meistrell and the complete remodeling of Dive n’ Surf in Hermosa Beach, I thought I’d share an old D n’ S ad from a 1966 issue of Skin Diver magazine. It is from a time when diving was viewed a little differently and the personalities driving the sport were a little bigger. The fish were as well i suppose. Now before everyone gets all worked up about the Giant Sea Bass in the photo, I’d like to point out that Bob became one of the biggest supporters in ocean conservation in the surf and dive industry, serving on the boards of educational institutions such as the Cabrillio marine Museum in San Pedro and the California Conservation Corps’ Sea Lab in Hermosa Beach. The ocean had no bigger supporter than Bob Meistrell. So enjoy as we at CFD share this remembrance of Bob and say thank you to him for all he did for people who loved the ocean.
Some divers might make 1000 dives in their California dive career and never see one. Sadly, they used to be as thick as carpet on reefs up and down our coastline but thanks to a knockout combination of overfishing and a fatal disease introduced into the ecosystem, reds are for intensive purposes biologically extinct in most of our state. Take a moment and enjoy something that’s not really here anymore. CFD is proud to present to you the late, great red abalone.