Shelter Cove – Overview

Aerial view of Shelter Cove

Nestled on the edge of a rugged 120 mile stretch of coastline between the towns of Ft. Bragg and Eureka in Northern California is the unincorporated community of Shelter Cove. The steep unstable coastline reaching nearly forty miles to the south and eighty miles north is the only length of California coast without a major highway along it called the Lost Coast. It’s remoteness protects some of the most pristine and rich nearshore waters in California.

The community rests on Point Delgada that stretches out from the steep rising geography on either side to provide a gentle shelf before colliding with the sea. The point extends south west from the coast, creating a natural barrier from the prevailing seas and winds from the north. The tamed waters on the protected south east side of this point has provided refuge to vessels for over two hundred years and thus the name Shelter Cove.

Commercial fishing first took hold in 1925 when three major fish companies joined to establish a fish receiving and processing facility and a wharf at Shelter Cove. In 1930, fishermen landed as much as 140,000 pounds of salmon in a day. The San Francisco International Fish Company went bankrupt in 1939 and moved out of the Cove. The wharf eventually fell into disrepair, with the ocean end missing and went down in 1939. Without facilities to receive and process fish, commercial fishing activity declined.

A new surge in fishing activity began in 1947 when the Machi brothers bought the Cove property. A road was carved into the cliffs so that vehicles could tow boats to the beach for launching and the Machi’s began to offer services including boat rentals, a tackle shop, motel, a cafe and boat launching began in 1950.

Shelter Cove Fishing Fleet, Circa 1970‘s

The “Mosquito Fleet” started in 1970 with 14 boats and by 1977 about 70 boats were selling fish in the Cove, delivering over 200,000 pounds in 1979. Mario Machi owned and operated the marina at the time and proposed a small breakwater be built in 1980. The breakwater / Jetty was later improved in 2010.

Mario Machi & Larry Smith-1979, Photo by Tony Machi

The boat launching service soon became a key element to the fishing community. Gas powered, high–crop farm tractors launched and retrieved boats safely from the breaking surf to prevent risking damage to boats and personal vehicles or injury to seafarers.

In 1998 larger, safer and more powerful diesel tractors replaced the older gas machines and immediately the amount and size of vessels using the Cove began to grow. Several charter boats began operating and commercial activity increased until by 2001, ocean activities through the Cove reached levels not seen in 20 years. Shelter Cove grew in popularity as a sport fishing destination on the west coast.

Today, fishing is more important to the economic health and quality of life for the Shelter Cove community than ever. Commercial activity still fluctuates dramatically influenced by many factors but recreational fishing, including fishing with kayaks, surfing and other maritime activities have been increasing since the 1990s and today is one of the primary reasons that Shelter Cove thrives.

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