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A Season of Plenty : A record catch of hefty tuna has pumped prosperity into San Pedro's fishing community. The 'miracle' is paying for boat engines, cars and homes.

January 31, 1989|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

Giant fish paid for Miguel Vuoso's new set of golf clubs, for John Dimeglio's upcoming trip to Italy and for Vince Piscopo's new 1989 Lincoln. Giant fish may even account for increased collections lately at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Pedro.

A record catch this winter by San Pedro fishermen of 767 of the biggest Pacific blue fin tuna ever taken by commercial fishing boats has pumped $3.5 million into Los Angeles' waterfront economy.

The 6- to 9-foot tuna weighing 300 to 1,009 pounds are a mystery to fishermen and marine biologists. Pacific blue fin tuna this size have never been seen or caught before.

"Catching the huge tuna was totally unexpected. It's God's gift to the San Pedro fishermen. I have been fishing 50 years here, ever since I came to America from Sicily when I was 9 years old. Nothing like this has ever happened," says Skipper Sal Russo, 59, of the 66-foot Tooter, a purse seiner, or fishing boat with a large net.

There is a flurry of activity at the San Pedro slip where the fishing fleet is docked. New engines have been purchased and are being placed in boats. Expensive new nets have been bought to replace old, tattered ones. Purse seiners are going into boatyard dry docks for long overdue repairs. All are because of the big fish.

"It's a miracle," insists Jose Magana, 39, one of nine fishermen aboard the Tooter, each receiving $22,000 for his share in netting giant tuna in the waters of Santa Rosa and San Nicolas Islands off the Southern California coast.

Magana says he will use his windfall as a down payment for a house. "My wife and I always wanted a home of our own. We have always paid rent. Now, at last, we can get one because of the big fish," he says.

Hitting the Jackpot

"Automobile agencies, merchants, tradesmen, boatyards, marine hardwares, net makers and many others in the San Pedro area are sharing in our good luck," notes Anton (Slavo) Stonojevich, 49, acting general manager of the Fishermen's Cooperative Assn.

Stonojevich says 135 fishermen on 15 boats have shared in the wealth generated by the giant blue fin tuna. He said they have earned from an extra few thousand dollars to more than $37,000 each.

The San Pedro fisherman can thank the Japanese for part of the bonanza. All of the giant fish were packed in ice upon being brought ashore in November, December and the first week of this month. Immediately, the fish were flown to Japan, where they commanded a record $20 to $32 per pound at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Japanese connoisseurs eagerly pay as much as $10 a bite in restaurants for rare tuna such as this--the bigger and the older the fish, the better the price it fetches.

"Now the fishermen are being paid and spending the money all over town," he says. "Everybody is benefiting from the big fish."

Skipper Isidoro Amalfitano, 47, of the 88-foot-long Sea Scout and his crew are installing a $100,000 engine. "We needed a new engine a long time. With the new engine we will have more speed. With more speed we will catch more fish," Amalfitano says.

The Sea Scout had a catch worth a total of $1 million in 1988 with $250,000 of it coming in just a few weeks from the giant tuna, he said.

Across from the Sea Scout, fishermen on the Maria and the Tooter were loading aboard new $100,000, 2,400-foot-long, 270-foot deep nets purchased with money earned from the big fish.

Fishermen of the weather-beaten, 52-year-old, 84-foot purse seiner Maria hit the jackpot in their catch of the monster fish. On the night of Dec. 11, the Maria caught 131 of the giants weighing 41,290 pounds--an average of 315 pounds each. The boat caught 11 more of the big fish a week later.

The Maria received $666,000 from the two trips. After expenses about half went to the crew to be divided into equal shares and about half went to the boat, as happens on all purse seiners.

Each of the nine fishermen aboard the Maria received $37,648.56 for the two nights' work. After deducting $9,395 for federal income tax, $1,882 state income tax, $2,822.35 in FICA, $197.10 in state disability insurance, $380.81 union dues and $67.35 for groceries, each fisherman's check amounted to $22,903.95.

"I made more money those two days than I made in any one of the 26 years I have been fishing aboard the Maria," said crew member Miguel Vuoso, 56. "My best previous year was $26,000 before taxes and deductions. My poorest year was $3,000. If there are no fish, you don't make any money."

Vuoso plays golf every chance he gets when he isn't fishing. First thing he did when he received his check recently was to bank it, send money to his mother, brother and sisters in Argentina, then head for Los Verdes Golf Course, where he spent $850 for a new bag and a set of top-of-the-line clubs.

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