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Monterey votes to deter future cruise visits

Wendy Brickman
Fisherman's Wharf Association

Monterey City council votes to end its support services for visiting cruise ships.

After years of pandemic restrictions, the cruise ships that once regularly anchored off the Monterey coast may never return, after a contentious move by the Monterey City Council effectively ended the city’s role in bringing cruise ship passengers ashore.

The city council voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday that it would no longer provide support services to visiting cruise ships, which included loading and unloading the ferries that brought tourists to Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

“The risk associated with cruise ships is just too large to carry,” said Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar. He initiated the vote and fears visiting cruise ships could cause an environmental catastrophe in Monterey Bay.

Some of those fears stem from an incident in 2002, when Monterey banned the Crystal Harmony cruise from its shores for over a decade, after the ship dumped over 30,000 gallons of wastewater and other contaminated fluids off the coast of Big Sur.

Uslar fears a worse disaster — like an oil spill — could happen in the future.

“It is all about risk assessment, and it's all about preserving the pristine bay,” Uslar said. He added that tourism from cruise ships doesn’t bring in enough money to justify the risk.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the industry, cruises brought in $1.5 million to the region, a tiny fraction of Monterey County’s $3.2 billion tourism revenue from that year, Uslar said.

But for business owners on Old Fisherman’s Wharf — the first stop for the thousands of cruise ship visitors in a typical year — that revenue is vital.

“On a cruise ship day here on Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row, our business is double and sometimes triple,” said Chris Shake, who owns Old Fisherman’s Grotto on the wharf. “It's great for business.”

The city of Monterey doesn't have authority to stop cruise ships from anchoring off its shores altogether. The companies could still ferry visitors ashore without the city's assistance, and Shake says he and other local business owners plan to find ways to facilitate cruise visits.

“Our plans are to look at the private sector… to handle the services that the city of Monterey was providing,” Shake said.

Anne Madison, a spokesperson for the industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association, called the city’s move “a disappointment.” She said at least 19 cruises with an estimated 60,000 passengers planned to visit Monterey this year.

Now, she says, cruise lines are deciding whether to keep Monterey on the itinerary, or bypass the Monterey Bay altogether.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 90.3 KAZU in Seaside, Calif. He served at the station from Oct. 2022 to July 2023.