While California’s seafood sales overwhelmingly relied on imported animals, commercial fisheries landed nearly 360 million pounds of fin- and shellfish in 2014, according to a federal report released Thursday with the most recent figures on the nation’s fishing economy.
The state’s seafood industry, including imports, generated a whopping $23 billion — more than 10 percent of the nation’s $214 billion total sales in 2014 from commercial harvest, seafood processors and dealers, wholesalers and distributors, and importers and retailers.
As such, most of California’s nearly 144,000 industry jobs came from the import and retail sectors, according to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Fisheries Economics of the U.S. 2014 report. Nationally, 1.83 million jobs are supported by the fishing industry.
California shellfish were the most lucrative product in the state’s home-grown seafood market, with crabs and spiny lobsters native to Southern California getting the most money per pound of all the species fished, at $3.37 and $19.16 per pound, respectively.
But market squid were overwhelmingly the most commonly landed species, with 227 million pounds caught. Squid only returned an average of 32 cents a pound, however. Commercially fished in San Pedro, among other landings, squid are in high demand in foreign markets.
California commercial anglers sold 20.8 million pounds of crab, 17 million pounds of Pacific sardine for 12 cents a pound, and 11.8 million pounds of sea urchin at 77 cents per pound, the report states.
“In California, shellfish have always been more important, at least in terms of value,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “This includes squid and Dungeness crab — usually the top two fisheries in value, and spiny lobster, which was an $18 million fishery in 2015.”
California fishers relied heavily on healthy market squid stocks in 2014 but, as El Niño weather conditions entered the following year, squid landings dropped significantly, Pleschner-Steele said.
“We’re now just starting to see squid landings, but at low volumes,” she said.
The lack of squid availability and fishing restrictions on Pacific sardine, which were the third-most commonly caught species in 2014, have been a challenge for fishers who argue there are plenty of sardines in the waters but they aren’t allowed to catch them because of state-imposed restrictions.
Mike Conroy, president of West Coast Fisheries Consultants, said anglers have had an increasingly hard time since 2014 trying to keep their fishing fleets afloat.
“I am sure the number of jobs have been dropping, but that is attributable to the closure of the sardine fishery, a slow squid year, increased regulation and automatic processing,” Conroy said. “Hopefully, with the departure of El Niño and arrival of La Niña, if it materializes, we should see more squid this season.”
The most controversial Southern California fishing operation, however, is the drift gill net fishery for swordfish and thresher sharks. Environmentalists have been fighting to close it for decades because the nets historically have captured large amounts of bycatch, harming and killing unintended species — including turtles and marine mammals. Technological innovations such as acoustic pingers have reduced the problem, but there is state legislation and an active campaign seeking to ban drift gill nets altogether.
“The (drift gill net) fishery is still hanging on,” Pleschner-Steele said. “But it’s much smaller now. Only a dozen or so fishermen have persevered.”
Nearly 2 million pounds of California swordfish were landed in 2014, earning a high return of $2.45 a pound, the National Marine Fisheries report found.
The least lucrative fish in California in 2014 was the Pacific whiting, or hake, which can be found all along the coast. It earned just 9 cents a pound, according to the NOAA report. Among common fin-fish species, salmon was the state’s most lucrative, garnering $4.74 a pound, followed by sablefish and rockfish, at $2.26 and $1.57 a pound, respectively, in 2014.
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