Interviewee: Frank Gargas, Sr.

Role: Retired U.S. West Tuna Fishing Captain and Boat Owner

Date of Interview: 11/22/2012

Collection: Tuna Industry Pioneers: San Pedro and Terminal Island, CA

Click on the link below to view the interview.

Frank Gargas, Sr. interview

Abstract: Captain Gargas was the first tuna boat captain to successfully use a helicopter to spot tuna schools and set schools from the air which proved a great advantage to the fleet. He describes how he financed the purchase of his first helicopter and addressed the early challenges of operating a helicopter from the deck of tuna purse seine vessel when many thought it could not be done.


I have been a fisherman all my life. Started at the age of 17 and retired in October of 1992.

I had always had the desire for aircraft. There had been a couple of individuals who in the years past tried helicopters and they didn't last very long. I happened to be a more stubborn individual and I approached Del Monte [Foods]. I had 40% interest in the Caribbean1 aircraft in a big corporation because of the liability factor.' . I wanted to put a helicopter aboard. They says, 'no, we cannot have any aircraft in a big corporation because of the liability factor.'

So I thought about it a while, and I says, well, what if I put a ship [helicopter] aboard? He says 'if you do we have no objection as long as it's not in our name.' So I went to the bank, I borrowed $20,000 and I bought my first helicopter and I was in the helicopter business.

Now the helicopter at that time I think cost me something like $50,000. It was a new Bell 47-G5. I put that aboard and, to meet my payments with the ship, I started servicing the fleet on a 5% of catch2 - I would find the fish or set the boats. This was in the conversion period when the bait boats were just converting to seiners. They were all inexperienced people so I had plenty of business.

I paid for my helicopter. I proved it was a success and started the run. Everybody said that you could not run a helicopter aboard the boats because the expense and the maintenance which I proved wrong.

I flew helicopters off of the Caribbean for 10 years before any of the other ships put in. Then, as the economic situation got worse, everybody started shipping helicopters and there was no more problem with maintenance.

Eventually – everybody to this day has a helicopter. I proved the fact that they were feasible.

To learn more about Captain Gargas and view his photos, click here.

This collection is part of an effort to create a film about the origins and history of the West Coast tuna industry in San Pedro and Terminal Island, CA. At the heart of it all were immigrants from Japan, Croatia, Italy, and Portugal. The current global tuna industry still uses many of the innovations pioneered in those early days. More information and footage, at:

1San Pedro-based tuna purse seine vessel
2Captain Gargas is referring to receiving 5% of the revenues from those successful sets that used his helicopter for locating the fish.