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[Monterey Herald] By James Urton – December 8, 2014 –
The squid fishery in California remains robust, and this year’s catch has been unusually strong in Monterey Bay. In a typical season only about 20 percent of market squid are caught off Northern California. But this squid season — which runs from April to March — more than half of the state’s catch have come from north and central coast waters.
“We really had quite a banner year,” said Monterey harbormaster Stephen Scheiblauer.
By initial estimates, at least 75 percent of the Northern California squid catch came from waters in and around Monterey Bay. Scientists and squid fishermen do not fully understand the reason for this flip.
“For Monterey, it was amazing,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.
There have been other seasons where Northern California outshone Southern California in squid hauls. But, since 1980, all of those years have preceded or fallen during El Nino climate shifts, which bring warm water to the California coast, starting with Southern California and moving north. It’s believed squid follow the cooler water.
“These squid really respond to ocean conditions,” said Pleschner-Steele.
The state is not currently in an El Nino pattern. But, it is possible that recent El Nino-like shifts in ocean conditions drove market squid farther north.
“The last couple of years, especially in Northern California, have been good for squid,” said Neil Guglielmo, captain of the 70-foot fishing vessel Triumphal.
Since squid season began April 1, commercial boats have hauled nearly 60,000 tons of market squid through Northern California ports, with a dock value of approximately $38.3 million. This is the largest squid season north of Point Conception in history and more than double the previous record set in the 2002-03 season. This year, Eureka reported its first squid landings.
“We fished squid this year where we never fished before,” said Guglielmo.
For much of this season, Guglielmo took the Triumphal from its home port near Ventura up the coast to Monterey and points farther north to haul in squid. He reported squid as far north as Crescent City.
“We just followed them up there,” said Guglielmo. “There was so much squid.”
This season was also a record for Monterey Bay, with an estimated 45,000 tons of squid caught in its waters, according to marine biologist Briana Brady with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
These record hauls also bring welcome economic benefits to ports. The local squid industry supports approximately 1,500 seasonal and full-time jobs, according to Scheiblauer. Ten squid fishing boats are based in Moss Landing and Monterey. In addition to landing fees at wharfs and the dock value of catches, the squid season brings economic benefits in the form of room and board for crew, fuel for boats, ice, cold storage facilities, transportation and processing for each boat’s catch. The Monterey area includes three resident buyers for squid.
“They’re still a big part of our culture and economy,” Scheiblauer said.
Ample food supplies and undisturbed spawning grounds help sustain market squid along the California coast. But, based on past squid fishing seasons, their numbers can still fluctuate along 10- to 15-year cycles, according to Brady.
Market squid are relatively small, often measuring about a foot in length, and prefer to eat small invertebrates, plankton or each other. Their short six- to 10-month lifespan makes it difficult for biologists to estimate the size of the entire market squid population off California to manage the fishery sustainably.
Instead, beginning in the last decade, regulators crafted a squid fishery management policy around a handful of core regulations. No more than 118,000 tons of squid can be harvested in California waters during the annual season. This limit was based off annual squid harvests in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“We’re happy with that maximum cap,” said Pleschner-Steele. “It’s a good, conservative number.”
The state also uses a limited-entry permit system for squid fishing to control the number of fishing boats in California waters. In addition, marine-protected areas in Southern California and Monterey Bay keep approximately one-third of squid spawning grounds along the coast off limits to fishing. Finally, no commercial vessel may fish for squid between noon Friday and noon Sunday. This weekly moratorium gives squid in non-protected areas opportunities to spawn, according to Scheiblauer.
As of Nov. 20, the statewide catch for market squid is nearly 115,000 tons. Since the maximum squid harvest cannot exceed 118,000 tons, this season is drawing to an early close. Under a voluntary co-management agreement between the squid fishing industry and Fish and Wildlife, larger fishing vessels ceased harvesting squid last month so smaller boats can “mop up” the remaining allotment of squid.
Based on reports from squid fishermen, this year there will still be plenty of squid left behind. But, in the wake of this season’s unusual squid bounty for Northern California, no one is willing to predict what might be in store for next year. In two previous El Nino cycles, desolate squid harvests in Northern California followed one or two years of largesse.
“You could have a boom year like this year and next year there’ll be nothing,” said Scheiblauer.
But, even after those turbulent oscillations, the squid fishery stabilized around a sustainable mean. That long-term trend gives others cause for cautious optimism.
“If the water doesn’t go crazy,” said Guglielmo, “I think we’ll be fine.”
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