California’s fishing industry was built largely on ‘wetfish’, so called because historically the fish were canned ‘wet from the sea’, with
minimal preprocessing. Sardines, mackerel, anchovy and market squid {now called coastal pelagic species} have contributed the lion’s
share of California’s commercial seafood harvest since before the turn of the 20th century. California’s wetfish industry was founded by
immigrant fishermen, and the enterprise of these fishing families helped to build the ports of Monterey and San Pedro, as well as San
Diego and San Francisco. Today’s wetfish industry is a traditional industry with a contemporary outlook: streamlined and more efficient
but still peopled by fourth and fifth-generation fishing families. Today the sons and daughters continue the enterprise begun by their
fathers and grandfathers 100 years ago.

In recent years (2010-2012), landings of coastal pelagic species {CPS} represented an average 82 percent of the total statewide commercial seafood harvest by volume, and approximately 37 percent of the dockside value. Market squid was California’s most valuable fishery in two of the three years, contributing more than $206 million in ex-vessel value over the time period. Market squid also is the economic driver of the wetfish industry. Due to squid’s ultra short shelf life fresh, processors produce mostly “fresher frozen” squid in retail and restaurant packs to serve local and domestic markets, and squid also represents a significant percentage, both by volume and value, of the Golden State’s seafood exports.

Coastal pelagic species are among California’s most important seafood exports. In a state that imports close to 90 percent of its seafood, California’s wetfish complex contributes importantly to the Golden State’s fishing economy, and in addition, helps substantially to offset the seafood trade imbalance.

Major Wetfish Exports — 2011
150,202,828 kilos
$195,418,835
Total CA (2011 export values)
186,859,917 kilos
$402,700,721
% All Wetfish
80.4%
48.5%
% Squid
69.6%
44.3%


Transformed from its storied beginnings, California’s wetfish industry today remains an essential part of California’s fishing heritage and culture, as well as a critically important contributor to California’s economy.

ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

Coastal pelagic species comprise the foundation of many harbor communities; the volume crossing the dock is critically important to
maintain harbor infrastructure and dockside employment.

Port
2011 Wetfish % of Total Port Landings
2011 Wetfish % of Total Port XV Value
Monterey Harbor
97.5%
76.3%
Moss Landing
96.2%
66.3%
Ventura
98.7%
82%  (squid)
Port Hueneme
99.9%
99.9%
San Pedro
99.6%
93.4%
Terminal Island
97.7%
81.4%
2010-2012 Contribution to Statewide Landings
82%
37%


The CPS complex represents the lion’s share of fishery revenue paid to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Over the past decade the wetfish industry has contributed close to $20 million in landing taxes and license fees to harvest coastal pelagic species.

Market squid fishing permit fees also are the highest of any fishery in California. In 2012, in addition to general fishing license and vessel registration fees, the squid fleet paid the Department more than $330,000 in squid limited-entry permit fees.
In 2012 the market squid fleet numbered 157 vessels in all, including 71 transferable vessel permits, 8 non-transferable vessel permits, and 41 brail permits. In addition, there were 34 light boat permits, which assist the fleet in locating and aggregating squid, but are not allowed to catch squid themselves. Seventy seiners (including both transferable and non-transferable vessel permits) and 26 brail vessels made landings in the 2012 squid fishery.


THE WETFISH FLEET:

CPS species are harvested with purse seine nets. CPS finfish are managed under the federal CPS Fishery Management Plan – California’s CPS fleet operates under a limited entry program with 65 transferable permits issued (62 are currently active). Vessels range in size from approximately 30-90 feet in length and 20-140 gross registered tons in capacity. Purse seine vessels require 5-8 crewmen to operate, including the skipper.

Market squid, a monitored species under the CPS FMP, is actively managed by the State of California under the Market Squid Fishery Management Plan. A state limited entry program was established in 2004, reducing fleet size to 77 transferable purse seine vessel permits (71 purchased permits in 2012);
about 66 vessels fish actively each year. Approximately 45-50 of the squid vessels also maintain CPS finfish permits and fish for both squid and CPS species, depending on season and availability.


THE MARKETS:

Wetfish processing is concentrated in about 10-12 family-owned companies, most of whom have operated in Monterey, San Pedro or points in-between for decades. Each company employs 30 to more than 450 permanent employees, who process and pack wetfish in myriad forms for domestic consumption and export to more than 26 countries worldwide.

Excerpt from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CPS PROCESSOR COST-EARNINGS REPORT
– THE IMPORTANCE OF SARDINES IN THE SOUTHERN CA CPS FISHERY [2004]

Overall, the S.CA. sardine/wetfish industry employs between 1,400 and 1,500 workers, including seasonal employees, and the maximum packing capacity is estimated between 1,900 and 2,000 tons per 24 hour day, in aggregate.

Excerpt from MONTEREY REGION CPS PROCESSORCOST-EARNINGS REPORT
– THE IMPORTANCE OF SARDINES IN THE MONTEREY BAY AREA CPS FISHERY [2005]

Overall, the Monterey Bay area sardine/wetfish industry employs at least 420 workers, including seasonal employees, and the maximum packing capacity is estimated at approximately 1,100 tons per 24 hour day, in aggregate.

In 2013 the City of Monterey commissioned a Fishing Community Sustainability Plan. An economic assessment of the wetfish industry in the Monterey Bay Area projected 720 jobs, including seasonal workers, and packing capacity of 1,400 tons per day.

The wetfish industry is alive and well, in both Monterey and Southern California, Indeed, California’s historic wetfish industry is the foundation of California’s commercial fishing economy.


THE PORTS:

Monterey and Moss Landing in central California, and Ventura, Port Hueneme and San Pedro in southern California, are the primary ports of landing for the wetfish industry. Smaller volumes may also be landed in San Diego and San Francisco. Since 1982, approximately 10-20 percent of landings are offloaded in Monterey ports, and 80-90 percent of landings are offloaded in southern California ports, with the major share of those landings offloaded in San Pedro and Terminal Island.

Vessels seine for market squid in Monterey Bay

The San Pedro wetfish fleet heads out from port for a night of fishing

Wetfish industry leadership established the nonprofit California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA) in 2004. Members include fishermen and processors who produce most of the total statewide wetfish harvest. CWPA’s mission includes sponsoring cooperative research to ensure sustainable fisheries and facilitating communications within and outside the wetfish industry.

This industry has heavily invested in research since early times, from the beginnings of the California Cooperative Fishery Investigations (CalCOFI). Today CWPA’s cooperative research program continues the tradition, expanding knowledge of market squid and sardine, collaborating with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Southwest Fishery Science Center.

This information is available as a downloadable PDF: CA Wetfish Statement of Importance