Cabo Blanco and Its Marine Life

About 750 miles up the coastline from the Peruvian capital city of Lima, a quiet fishing village called Cabo Blanco rests among the pale cliffs. Here, even in winter, a warm breeze blows over the white sand beaches. Atop a rocky hill, the dilapidated shell of a building overlooks the vast Pacific. The eaves are rotting, and the swimming pool has long been dry.

These ruins are all that is left of the legendary Cabo Blanco Fishing Club, an exclusive resort for wealthy deep-sea fishermen who flocked there over half a century ago. Like Rick Rosenthal in Superfish, these men were on the hunt for “granders” — black marlin weighing in at over 1,000 pounds. Just a few miles offshore, the waters were so plentiful that sports fishermen didn’t bother trolling for their catch — they would simply throw their lines in the direction of the giant billfish they spotted from their boats. They called this place “Marlin Boulevard.” Back at the club, they celebrated their record hauls by lining the pathway with marlin tails and tossing back a drink at the bar.

Standing on this hillside, looking out at the water, one can still see the ocean currents that brought this bountiful sea life to Cabo Blanco. Up and down the coastline, dark blue waves meet a bulwark of lighter blue water. Here, the icy waters of the Humboldt Current collide with warmer water from the Pacific Equatorial Current. Where they meet, upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich waters bring millions of plankton to the surface. Anchovies feed on the plankton. In turn, the anchovies support a breathtaking array of undersea creatures, including squid, sailfish, marlin, swordfish, and shark. But at no point in time were the waters here as rich with life as they were during the heyday of “Marlin Boulevard” in the 1950s and 60s.

On a sunny day in August 1953, one of the Fishing Club’s founders, Texas oil magnate Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., was fishing eight miles offshore. Suddenly, there was a violent tug on his line — something had grabbed onto his five-pound mackerel bait. For nearly an hour and forty-five minutes, Glassell wrangled his catch. When it finally surfaced he saw just how enormous the creature was. Again and again the massive black marlin leapt from the water, trying to free itself from the hook. But it was no match for Glassell. At 1,560 pounds and over 14-and-a-half feet long, it was — and still is — the largest bony fish ever caught by rod and reel.

In the years that followed, game fishermen who heard of Glassell’s giant catch swarmed to Cabo Blanco to try their luck. Among the celebrities said to have visited are Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and baseball player Ted Williams. Ernest Hemingway spent several weeks there during filming for the movie adaptation of his book The Old Man and the Sea. He later wrote, “We fished 32 days, from early morning until it was too rough to photograph and the seas ran like onrushing hills with snow blowing off the tops.” According to the locals, Hemingway himself hauled in ten marlins. Five decades later, however, it’s sometimes impossible to tell fact from legend.

The Cabo Blanco Fishing Club has been closed for decades.

The Cabo Blanco Fishing Club has been closed for decades. Like these distant memories, the granders have also faded away from Cabo Blanco. In the years that followed Glassell’s record-breaking catch, a dramatic increase in the commercial fishing of anchovies, which are often used for fishmeal or bait, led to a significant decline in this important billfish food source. According to some, a particularly severe El Niño event in the Pacific likely compounded their scarcity. In 1970, the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club finally closed its doors, due to the military rule of General Juan Velasco Alvarado and the hostile environment toward North Americans his policies engendered. The giant billfish were gone, and so were the tourists.

Today, Peru’s commercial fisheries continue to harvest the sea. It is an endless process, driven in part by the poverty of seaside villages. Nearly one-fifth of the world’s total fishing catch comes from the Humboldt Current ecosystem, yet local fishermen make only pennies on the pound. Rick Rosenthal thinks our insatiable appetite for seafood is having dangerous consequences. In Superfish, Rick watches the fishermen unload their bounty on the docks. “It’s taken away by truck and put on a plane, and most of it going to the United States,” he explains.

In recent years, however, the Peruvian government has taken steps to prevent overfishing. In 1999, Peru’s maritime research institute, Imarpe, joined with the fisheries ministry to institute a satellite tracking system to help monitor the country’s entire fleet of fishing vessels. Boat owners foot the cost of renting the mandated equipment, which relays data about water temperature and salinity (to help identify the occurrence of upwellings) as well as information about the types and quantities of fish that are caught. All of the data is tracked by a central system, allowing the government to better manage temporary fishing bans and other sustainability measures. On April 2, 2008, Peruvian president Allan Garcia signed a Presidential Order that, effective immediately, will ban the commercial harvest of billfish in the country’s waters. Developed in cooperation with The Billfish Foundation, a Florida-based non-profit dedicated to conserving billfish populations, the plan also includes other conservation measures and promotes a sustainable, catch-and-release sportsfishing industry in Peru.

Many conservationists see sportsfishing as animal exploitation and thus oppose the practice outright. However, tourism generated by the sportsfishing industry in Peru could provide an economic boon that may help some in poverty-stricken coastal communities shake their dependence on commercial fishing, which many fear is irreversibly depleting the ocean’s ecosystems.

Time will tell if the government’s measures will help spur an ecological revival here. For now, however, the village of Cabo Blanco can only reminisce about its glory days long past.

  • Javier Esbona

    Why is it that when they go to Australia they hire a boat captain to show them around? But when they go to Peru, all they talk about is poverty and over fishing? Instead of providing a sound scientific reason for the diminishing numbers of “peces espada” they immediately attribute it to the poor people of the coastal villages. The first ones to be blamed are the big fishing companies overfishing the “anchoveta” and secondly the nino phenomenon. The documentary left a lot wish for as it pertains to the segment in Peru. The granders concentrate where the currents merge, that place is not always Cabo Blanco, it goes up and down the peruvian coast. I found the part about Peru, preachy and short on reserach.

  • john hulsey

    In 1973, I lived at the Cabo Blanco fishing club with two of my brothers and the rest of an oil exploration crew for two weeks – they had reopened it just for us, and it was still in good shape, parquet floors,pink bathroom fixtures and all. We arose at 3:30 each morning to go to sea where we found oil for Peru, returning each afternoon to walk up the Marlin-tail lined drive to our new home. I’ll never forget the gigantic mounted Marlin(Glassell’s) and the 400 lb. Tuna on the wall in the bar. We had many adventures on and off the job that summer!

  • Tom Hulsey

    Hey John, glad you saw the show. It was cool to see the Fishing Club after 36 yrs. When we were there the walls had pictures of all the big catches. Lots of interesting people in those pictures. What a great place

  • Russell Elwell

    The statement that Glassell’s 1560 pound black marlin was “the largest bony fish ever caught by rod and reel” is not true. While it is the IGFA record holder, Capt. Cornelius Choy’s 1805 pound blue marlin caught in 1970 on the Coreen C in Honolulu is the largest bony fish ever caught on rod and reel. It doesn’t qualify as the IGFA world record because of rule disqualifications, but it was caught on a rod and reel.

  • dennis plante

    I would very much like to get in-touch with Tom & John Hulsey regarding CBFC.

  • fdelrocio

    Hi, I was born in the area and live in there trough five years, after that we
    relocated to other city, but every summers and hollidays back to my beloved beach
    Cabo Blanco, is too sad you didn’t see again the renovate fishing club,
    in the 1987, Andres Ocampo did cool job trying to recover de area, it was cool
    the hotel was nice, I hope someone do it again.
    I think all of you enjoyed the fantastic view of the sunset, like
    me from home in the barrio staff, i though i’ll never find
    something like alike.

  • raoul

    This was an amazing glimpse into the world of one of natures most magnificent creatures.I hope these beautiful beings continue to inhabit the oceans for millenia to come.They are much more impressive in the seas than mounted on the wall of some fool who believes that manhood is displayed through cruelty.

  • Rosemarie Abad

    Hi. I enjoy ALL of Nature Series, but because my father was born and raised in Talara, Peru, and I visited Talara in 1967 with my family, this segment was very special to me. My nephew graduates from high school this year, and I would like to take him to Peru, and visit Talara, Machu Picchu, and now, Cabo Blanco,….and spread my father ashes at the beach in Talara. (My father always talked about the beach in Talara and how he loved to swim in it. He gave me my love of the ocean and nature.) Any recommendations?

  • B. Montagne

    I watched today Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Old man and the Sea”, in which Spencer Tracy (for me one of the gratest actors Hollywood has had) acted as the Old man. I really enjoyed the movie, but I felt very proud when I read at the end, that part of this movie was from the film taken by the Texas oil magnate Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., and who was also one of the Fishing Club’s founders, Cabo Blanco, in Peru. I run immediately to read about this club, sadly to know that no longer exist, though it was brought to life by Andres Ocampo in 1978. I hope one day I get to visit Talara and just experience those beautiful sunsets that you guys talk about in Cabo Blanco. My son wants to become an actor, and it will be also fun to share a little space of the past that was picked for a great movie. I also hope that as Andres Ocampo renovated the club in 1978, somebody have the same dream and does it. Peru is a beautiful country.

  • M Cox

    I went by there today, we were working on a location up the beach a ways and drove into Cabo Blanco for lunch, there is an old man there who owns a restaurant and has pictures of Hemingway, he has always claimed Hemingway ate at his restaurant a few times when he was working on the film. The old man was still there, I had last seen him about 15 years ago. There have been some changes since I was there last but as we were leaving a fishing boat came by about 150 meters from the beach and a guy dove in and started swimming to shore pulling something, it turns out to have been a stringer of large fish, a fresh delivery by anyones terms, maybe some things that are good dont change.

  • CHoward

    I second Russell Elwell’s statement of the 1805lb world record caught on the Coreen C in 1970. I just got done fishing on that very boat the Coreen C in Oahu with the second Captain to ever own that boat. Captain Erwin. He told me that the fish is on diplay in Aloha Tower in Waikiki. I wasn’t able to go see it.

  • Patricia

    I’m doing a study about marlin fishing at Cabo Blanco. Actually, there are very few records of captures there, almost everyone goes to Banco de Máncora to the north. If you could help me to get some records of date and weight of marlin at Cabo Blanco it would be great. Of course all references will be registered. If you can help me please write to me to
    Thank you so much

  • Karl Grube

    CABO BLANCO: This historic property should be acquired by the Peruvian Government and designated as a national park. The buildings should be restored to 1950’s standards. A curator and manager and staff need to be hired to tell the history of the greatest Marlin fishing grounds in the world. It would become a hugh tourism attraction; it could restore the cultural history of this site to the international billfishing enthusiast. The oil industry could be a candidate for underwriting the project. Karl W. Grube, Ph.D. Ann Arbor, MI USA (A bill fisherman since 1965 – I would be glad to help with the project)

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