Based on landings information and projections, Department of Fish and Game (DFG) biologists expected that the season’s harvest limit of 118,000 short tons of market squid would be reached by Friday, December 17. The squid fishing season runs from April through the following March of each year, and the fishery closure will remain in effect through March 31, 2011. This is the first season the harvest limit has been attained since it was implemented by the Fish and Game Commission in 2004 as part of the California Market Squid Fishery Management Plan.
Squid fishermen and processors have assisted DFG in tracking daily catches this fall, as record squid abundance signaled the likelihood of reaching the harvest limit, established to ensure the squid fishery does not expand beyond levels experienced in the 1990s. “The wetfish industry and California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA) are very pleased to partner with DFG to ensure a sustainable market squid resource and fishery,” says California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele.
”The mission of the nonprofit CWPA is to facilitate collaborative research and management of our marine resources,” Pleschner-Steele explains. “Our market squid research program predicted a good season this fall, but this has been truly amazing.”
Under the supervision of Dr. Doyle Hanan, retired DFG senior marine biologist supervisor formerly responsible for market squid and coastal pelagic fisheries, squid fishermen have learned how to tow scientific bongo nets to collect squid hatchlings, called paralarvae. They time these field surveys to coincide with quarterly California Cooperative Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) oceanic research cruises. Dr. Hanan has observed a correlation between increased paralarvae abundance and a productive fishery six- to nine months later.
(Learn more about CWPA’s market squid research program here.)
The presence of market squid is strongly correlated with environmental factors, such as water temperature and nutrient availability. In warm water years, such as during El Niño events, squid abundance drops sharply and landings decline. However, when water temperatures cool, even after severe warm water events, market squid numbers can rebound dramatically.
“Recent favorable environmental conditions generated the current surge in market squid abundance, says Dr. Hanan. “The fact is there were plenty of adult squid and eggs produced to take advantage of these environmental conditions. This huge biomass has occurred while a squid fishery continued and a fishery management plan controlled fishing activities. From a fishery science and biological standpoint, this indicates that the management plan is indeed working.”
“We have had a banner year for market squid this year,” says Dale Sweetnam, DFG senior marine biologist who now oversees the commercial market squid fishery. “In California, we have had squid landings from La Jolla to Half Moon Bay and reports that market squid are abundant off many of the offshore banks, the Channel Islands, as well as off Baja California. The colder than normal water conditions we have observed since February have provided optimal conditions for squid spawning.”
According to the DFG News Release, market squid is by far California’s largest and most valuable commercial fishery. In 2009, just over 100,000 tons were landed with an ex-vessel value of $56.5 million. California market squid is used domestically for food – often identified as “calamari” in restaurants – and is an important international commodity. Last year, California fish businesses exported market squid to 36 countries with China the leading importer of California market squid.
The harvest limit is one of many provisions governing the squid fishery, which has been managed under the state’s Market Squid Fishery Management Plan (MSFMP) since 2005. The goals of the MSFMP are to ensure long-term conservation and sustainability of the market squid resource, reduce the potential for overfishing and provide a framework for management. In addition to the harvest limit, weekend closures were implemented to allow for periods of uninterrupted spawning each week.
The MSFMP was developed under the provisions set forth by California’s Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), which became law in 1999. The MLMA created state policies, goals and objectives to govern the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of California’s living marine resources.
(Read the entire DFG news release announcing the fishery closure here.)