Since the first Chinese came here in the early 1800’s until the present day, Chinese Californians have played a part in the experiment that is California. We all know of the contributions of Chinese during the Gold Rush and their labors building the Transcontinental Railroad, the buildings and wine caves of the Napa Valley and the discrimination and abuse they faced, yet the contributions of the Chinese who came here form an integral part of our state’s history and the Chinese community is still a major contributor to the economy, history and culture of our state.
While many of the Chinese who came to “Gold Mountain”, as they referred to California, did work in the gold fields and the service industries which provided the thousands of gold seekers with some semblance of a “civilized” life, operating laundries, stores, and restaurants; there were thousands of Chinese who worked in the young and very lucrative fishing industry. From the border with the Oregon Country to San Diego, there was not a single fishing port that did not have Chinese fishermen.
Here in California, Chinese fishermen plied the waters off the coast and in the San Francisco Bay and Delta. In the San Francisco Bay, the major Chinese fishery was for shrimp, which as late as the 1950’s, were plentiful in the Bay. In the 1880’s no fewer than seven major Chinese fishing villages ringed the Bay, and there were as many as 26 “fishing camps” in all. From Richmond in the north to Redwood City in the south, Chinese shrimpers spread their nets to catch the shrimp as they “marched, in their thousands” along the bottom of the Bay. Three species of shrimp were targeted, Crangon franciscorum, also known as the grass shrimp, Crangon nigricauda, the black tailed shrimp, and Crangon nigromaculata, the blue shrimp. Before the 1900’s most of the shrimp was dried and exported to China.
Beginning in 1910, restrictions were placed on the methods and seasons for shrimping. The traditional Chinese shrimp nets were banned outright as was the export of shrimp. The Chinese shrimp fishery went into a decline. Then, in 1915, some restrictions were lifted and the fishery began to increase. In 1924, a new net, designed by Frank Spenger, of Spenger’s restaurants, make shrimping in the Bay profitable again and by 1930 there were fourteen “shrimp camps” on the shores of San Francisco Bay; twelve on Hunter’s Point and two farther north, one in Marin and the other in Contra Costa Counties. The total catch in 1930 was 2,687,831 pounds of shrimp harvested. In 1930 the shrimp industry in San Francisco Bay employed 72 men and 35 boats.
This was not to last, however. In 1939, the Navy seized Hunter’s Point by eminent domain and the shrimp camps were burned down. That left two shrimp camps in on the Bay, Spenger’s located between Point Pinole and Point Molate and Quan’s located on Point San Pedro. The Quan brother’s camp became known as “China Camp”.
The Quan family continued the tradition of shrimping in the Bay long after all the other shrimp camps were a memory. From the 1930’s onward, the Quan Brothers shrimped, fished, rented out boats and ran a small cafe in the ever shrinking village they called home. China Camp was donated to the State park system in the late 70’s with the stipulation that Frank Quan, the last of his family to still commercially fish, be allowed to live there until his death. Frank sadly passed away in 2016, just shy of his 91st birthday. Today, China Camp stands as a memorial to an industry which has faded away but it is still worth a visit.
The Park has several preserved buildings, a museum, picnic grounds, six camp sites and several hiking trailheads. The park also features a reconstructed shrimping junk, the Grace Quan. The beach is popular with kayakers and there is a small, but nice beach. The cafe, which the Quan family ran for decades is preserved and serves as a snack stand and park store offering tee shirts post cards and other memorabilia.
GETTING THERE: From San Francisco, take 101N to exit 452 toward central San Rafael. Turn right onto 2nd Street and then follow Point San Pedro Road approximately four miles to the state park entrance.