Point Loma’s Augie Felando, longtime leader of San Diego tuna industry, dies at 94

August "Augie" Felando
August “Augie” Felando of Point Loma retired in 1991 after 31 years as president of the American Tunaboat Association.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The head of the American Tunaboat Association battled foreign competition and environmentalists in an effort to keep the once-thriving fishing community afloat.


Fisherman, lawyer and lobbyist Augie Felando spent his working years in and around the ocean, navigating waves both literal and figurative in support of San Diego’s embattled tuna industry.

He advised government regulators on tariffs and treaties. He helped the fleet transition to more-productive fishing techniques. He argued with environmentalists about the efficacy of “dolphin-safe” laws. He publicly chided foreign countries that seized American vessels in territorial disputes.

“The sea, that was his life,” said his daughter Juliann Felando Ford.

Felando died June 20 at his home in Point Loma. He was 94.

Felando also wrote books and articles about maritime history, supported the Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma named in honor of ocean explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and hosted epic fish dinners for family holiday gatherings.

Born Feb. 11, 1929, in San Pedro, August John Felando was the eldest son of father August, whose family came from what is now Croatia, and mother Jesusa, whose roots were in the Basque region of Spain.

As a teenager, he began fishing on family-owned sardine and tuna boats. That was during World War II, so he was told to keep an eye out for Japanese submarines while he was minding the lines.

Tuna boats are tied up indefinitely at Campbell Boat Yard in San Diego in 1951.
These tuna boats were some of the 18 tied up indefinitely at Campbell Boat Yard in San Diego in 1951, their operators unable to compete with Japanese fishermen under low tariffs on imported seafood.

He became part owner of a bait boat while he attended Loyola University to become a lawyer. He met his future wife, Ann Fritzsche, a student at Marymount College, around that time. They were married in 1958, and he began working for a firm in Los Angeles that specialized in admiralty law.

Many of the cases took him to San Diego, where he got to know members of the American Tunaboat Association, which started in 1917 and is based here. In 1960, he was hired to run the organization and stayed for 31 years.

Augie Felando is pictured in 1979.

Settling in Point Loma, he and his wife raised five children and came to love their adopted hometown enough to buy season tickets for the Chargers and Padres.

But times were hard for the tuna industry, and getting harder. A fleet of what once had been more than 200 boats was dwindling amid competition from lower-priced foreign catches. Canneries were closing and moving to countries where labor was cheaper.

Felando helped boat owners shift from pole-and-line fishing to purse-seine nets, a transition that increased production and was adopted by other crews around the world.

“We changed the world in this town,” Felando once told the Evening Tribune. “We revolutionized the fishing of tuna so you can have an inexpensive can of tuna today.”

Other challenges lingered. Dozens of American tuna boats were seized over the years in foreign waters. An undercover film documented the deaths of dolphins in seine nets, and that led to public outcry, rule changes and eventually “dolphin-safe” labels on tuna cans. Fishing treaties had to be negotiated and renegotiated.

Felando was involved in all of it, quoted regularly in news coverage. He testified at congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., and participated in a United Nations “Law of the Sea” conference.

“He did a terrific job and was well thought of by people on all sides,” said Kenny Alameda, a longtime friend who worked in the tuna industry. “More than anything else, he was a gentleman who carried himself well, no matter the situation.”

When Felando retired in 1991, he lamented the decline of the U.S. tuna fleet, which by then was down to 57 vessels, 42 of them home-ported in San Diego. “We’re doing a lot of stupid things to push this industry out of this country,” he said.

John Hlavac, foreman at StarKist's fish dock on Shelter Island, helps unload a catch of albacore.
John Hlavac, foreman at StarKist’s fish dock on Shelter Island, helps unload a catch of albacore in November 1978.
(George Smith)

In retirement, he pursued a variety of passions, including painting, cooking and walking. He co-authored a 2011 book, “The Tuna/Porpoise Controversy,” which discussed many of the issues and trends affecting fishing crews.

His survivors include a brother, Gregory Felando of Port Angeles, Wash.; five children, August Felando of Calexico, Juliann Felando Ford (and husband Jack) of Rancho Santa Fe, Martin Felando of New York, Suzanne Felando of San Diego and Stephen Felando of Mammoth Lakes; and six grandchildren.

He was predeceased by Ann, his wife of 56 years; and a brother, Phil.

A rosary is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, July 8, at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 1140 Evergreen St., Point Loma, followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 22, at Church of the Nativity, 6309 El Apajo, Rancho Santa Fe.

The family suggests the Croatia Lacrosse Foundation as the recipient of memorial donations to honor Felando’s heritage and his love of athletics.


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