40 Years in America

The Ocean Providence

Tuna fishing in Gloucester, MA

The same could not be said of the movement’s involvement in U.S. fishing industry-related enterprises, which was intensely publicized and explosive, particularly in local communities. Rev. Moon considered the ocean to be a potential solution to world hunger and a key to future human survival. As he put it,

[P]opulation will increase ten-fold.... The land itself will be crowded. There will be less space to farm and more people to feed.... For a while mankind may try and escape to space and live up there, but the expenses will be too much and... [they] will come right back down to earth. Then...[mankind] will have to turn to the ocean. It is only a matter of time. The future of the ocean is inevitable.

Although the movement began fishing operations globally, America became the main focus for several reasons. First, there were multiple excellent fishing grounds on both coasts. Second, the American fishing industry was regarded to be depressed and the overall fish market underdeveloped. Third, and most important, Rev. Moon was working in the U.S. An avid fisherman, he began fishing in the Hudson River near Tarrytown, New York in 1973. Later that year he fished off the Connecticut coast and out of Freeport, Long Island. After he became very successful catching small tuna off the Long Island and New Jersey coasts, locals suggested he go to Gloucester, Massachusetts to challenge the giant blue fin tuna, which can swim sixty miles per hour and grow to three-quarters of a ton. Unable to catch one in 1974, Rev. Moon returned in 1975 and landed his first after three weeks of effort. He caught seven more that season. Continuing to refine his technique and taking to the sea as early as three or even two o’clock in the morning, his party caught sixty-four giant tuna during the seventy-day season two years later. It was during this period that Rev. Moon announced, "We are going to be a sea-going movement."

The movement pursued two tracks in its sea-going ventures. The first was the business track. From 1976 through the mid-1980s, the movement invested in a plethora of fishing-related businesses along the Korean chae-bol or conglomerate model. In other words, it acquired or built shipbuilding yards, commercial and charter fishing fleets, fish processing plants, and a distribution network consisting of wholesale and retail fish companies, restaurants, markets and groceries. The idea was to create a comprehensive, interlocking system of enterprises. The movement’s major investments between 1976-81 were for shipbuilding yards and food processing plants in Norfolk, Virginia; Bayou La Batre, Alabama; Gloucester, Massachusetts; and Kodiak, Alaska. During and after this period, approximately $30,000,000 was spent to purchase or construct several hundred ocean-going vessels ranging from multi-ton trawlers to sport fishing boats. The movement also capitalized on widespread interest in Japan and its raw fish or "sushi" tradition during the 1980s by creating a network of several dozen Japanese restaurants across the country. Other movement companies sold to American retailers or exported fish, especially tuna and lobster, to Japan at significantly higher prices. Research into various fish powders, imitation crabmeat, which later evolved into a successful business, and the possibilities of fish farms and aquaculture also commenced.

The second track that the movement pursued was in relation to the "ocean" providence. This involved the stimulation of interest among Americans, particularly young people, in the ocean, the revitalization of American seaports, and the creation of "ocean" churches. Rev. Moon frequently spoke about the virtues of fish over the American meat diet, the depressed state of the American fishing industry, and the need of youth, especially inner-city youth, to be exposed to the challenges and excitement of sea-going life. An early effort to stimulate interest and excitement was the "World Tuna Tournament" which the movement sponsored in Gloucester, Massachusetts between August 24-30, 1980.

Total prize money was $100,000: $70,000 for first, $20,000 for second, and $10,000 for third. This was the biggest cash prize ever awarded in a tuna-fishing tournament and far eclipsed the amounts awarded in other local, established tuna tournaments, which ranged from $200-$1,000. Not surprisingly, in combination with the movement’s purchase of a prominent restaurant and marina, its setting up of a fifteen-vessel commercial tuna-fishing fleet, and, as a coup de grace, its purchase of the former Cardinal Cushing Villa on the outskirts of town created an explosive controversy. The angry Gloucester mayor attempted to enlist the help of the Pope in blocking the villa’s sale, the business community feared an "economic takeover" and complained of the church’s "free labor force," parents feared that their children would be stolen and brainwashed, locals broke windows in the Unification-owned restaurant, repair shops refused to service "Moonie" engines, most Gloucester fishermen boycotted the event, and "[s]ome of their relatives and friends picketed the dock area to discourage other competitors" or blasted "a continual barrage of threats and insults" over the radio channel designated for the tournament. As a result, only 88 boats entered, approximately 15 of which were movement-owned. One commentator described this as "a relatively small number, considering both the walloping first prize and the fact that there are 8,000 commercially licensed tuna fishing boats in the United States -- a majority of which operate from New England seaports, or within traveling distance." Rev. Moon’s New Hope won first prize which was donated to a scholarship fund for Gloucester fishermen’s children, but the city refused to accept it.

While the movement may have precipitated some of this conflict, much of it was unfair and most of the townspeople’s fears were unfounded, as more dispassionate observers noted. Scott Cramer, writing for the November 1980 issue of Yankee magazine, noted that the movement held to "a policy of no recruiting in Gloucester," that the impact of its businesses was "insignificant," and that its operations were "only moderately successful." However, Cramer noted, "the Moonies’ tuna-fishing fleet has enjoyed success that awes and angers the local tuna fishermen." Prior to the tournament, he noted that the "church fleet" caught 115 tuna, a total he described as "phenomenal." He further wrote that "although the church fleet may be outnumbered ten to one on any given fishing day, the ratio of Moonie to non-Moonie tuna caught is two to one." One tuna fisherman he interviewed "repeated the general disbelief of their success" but wished every boat was "Moon-owned" as "they were the most courteous boats out there. They seldom cut anchor lines and... would be the first ones to move if you were fighting a fish." Cramer acknowledged that puzzlement by "the consistent effectiveness of the Moonie fishing fleet" was not surprising as "the majority of their captains have been fishing for less than two seasons."

Nevertheless, he observed "noticeable differences between the Moonie and non-Moonie fleets. The Moonie boats are spotless -- every night they are methodically scrubbed. And they are the first boats to leave in the morning and the last ones to come home." Still, one local fisherman groused, "If you don’t have a wife or anything to come home to at night, and if all your expenses are taken care of for you, you stay out there fishing." Unification captains, on the other hand, attributed their success to attitude, Rev. Moon’s tuna seminar, "spiritual vitality" which made "the bait more appetizing," and teamwork.

On October 1, 1980, Rev. Moon inaugurated Ocean Church. Initially he chose twenty-four seminary graduates and sixty members in supporting roles to pioneer twenty-four port cities on the East, West and Gulf coasts. He directed them to build a foundation of sixty members, at which point they were to order ten, twenty-eight foot "Good Go" fiberglass boats from the movement’s fleet and one large stern trawler. He advised the Ocean Church pioneers to "visit the Coast Guard chief, police chief and mayor," telling them that "your sole concern is to revive the fishing industry in America." He further said,

These boats will be your churches, and in the future when people visit your port, they will ask where the boat church is. The members will have a regular spiritual life, their mission will be on the ocean. The crews will rise before the sun and pray, then head out to the sea at sunrise. They will fish all day and return as the sun sets. They will catch more fish than anyone else in the area, even more than people who have been fishing for many years.

Clearly, Rev. Moon’s plan was for the pioneers to follow his path. Beginning in July 1981, he initiated an "Ocean Challenge" program that brought Ocean Church pioneers and large numbers of members to Gloucester for the seventy-day tuna-fishing season.

Ocean Church, not unlike the church’s inland witnessing efforts, did not meet Rev. Moon’s expectations. By September 1982, he was "deeply disappointed" and in a February 1984 speech entitled, "Let Us Begin Again," he stated, "I had expected a great deal from Ocean Church, but those expectations have been somewhat betrayed." He noted that boats intended for ocean cities were "still sitting in storage," unwanted, and questioned where this "disillusionment" came from. Basically, the same problems that undermined the movement’s witnessing efforts generally -- the overall climate of negativity, the lack of a consistently-followed program, east-west tensions, conflicting demands of family and mission, and the channeling of energies into other areas of concern -- also affected Ocean Church. These issues were compounded by Rev. Moon’s court case, which increasingly became a distraction. More so than other American projects, Ocean Church was Rev. Moon’s creation and demanded his direct guidance and participation. Although Rev. Moon later proclaimed another new start for the oceanic providence, it was becoming clear that the business rather than the church track was dominant.

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