May 12 2016

Monterey Bay squid season basically a bust

open letter to the reporter:

Good morning Mike,

I read your article on Monterey’s squid season with interest.  It’s true that El Niño has rearranged the oceanscape for the short term, and the species that favor cooler water conditions, such as anchovy and squid, will return when El Niño conditions dissipate, as appears to be happening now.

The point that I disagree with is your characterization of the industry’s “dirty little secret”… shipping squid to Asia for processing and reimportation, and the assumption that “a 12,000-mile journey … leaves one giant carbon footprint.

I conducted a survey of our California squid processors a few years ago, and based on informal calculations, I found that about 30 percent of the catch is either processed here or exported for cleaning and returned here —  a processor might export 2 containers of frozen whole, and reimport 1 container of cleaned squid (the recovery rate is about 50% from whole squid to cleaned rings and tentacles). 

 

The fact that the bulk of CA squid is exported is due to their popularity in Asian and Mediterranean countries.  The bulk of the squid exported from CA is consumed overseas, but that still contributes great economic benefits to California’s fishing economy — in typical high production years years California squid leads the Golden State’s seafood exports in volume and represents close to half of total export value.

  

Many squid processors do process squid here at the request of their customers.  But it costs the customer about double to buy fresh frozen locally processed squid.   The issue is price:  If more customers would be willing to pay the extra cost for local processing, I’m sure our squid processors would be happy to comply.  

 

On the issue of carbon footprint, I’m attaching a paper written by Dr. Richard Parrish, who examined the carbon footprint of a range of fisheries around the globe and found that CA’s wetfish / squid fleet among the “greenest” fisheries in the world.   The fact is that mode of transport is more important than miles in determining the CO2 footprint, and transport by ocean container ship ranks lowest among transportation methods.   Our CA squid/wetfish fleet can produce 2,000 pounds of protein for only 6 gallons of fuel.  That fact is worth noting.

 

Saving Seafood ran our op ed on California’s squid fishery some time back, responding to a Paul Greenberg article that appeared in the LA Times. Perhaps it’s time to run a similar piece in the Herald to set the record straight.

 

Thanks very much for your interest in our local squid fishery —  and thank you for considering these points.  I hope you’ll find this information helpful.


 

Monterey Fish Company president Sal Tringali looks over the fresh fish display at his store on Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2 on Wednesday. Tringali oversees a five-boat fleet that provides local restaurants with most of their fresh seafood, including squid.

Monterey Fish Company president Sal Tringali looks over the fresh fish display at his store on Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2 on Wednesday. Tringali oversees a five-boat fleet that provides local restaurants with most of their fresh seafood, including squid. Vern Fisher — Monterey Herald

Vern Fisher — Monterey Herald The fresh fish display at Monterey Fish Company on Wednesday.
Vern Fisher — Monterey Herald The fresh fish display at Monterey Fish Company on Wednesday.

 

Monterey >> If Monterey had a signature restaurant dish, cioppino and fried calamari would battle it out for the top spot. But the common ingredient in each is squid, those prehistoric looking cephalopods (scientific name loligo) that school in the cool, nutrient-rich waters of Monterey Bay.

In August a worldwide television audience tuned in for “Big Blue Live,” a BBC-PBS production that showcased our marine sanctuary teeming with sea life, from tiny shrimp to giant blue whales.

Then “the boy” arrived.

“Once El Niño showed up things started to look different in the bay,” said Sal Tringali, president of Monterey Fish Company, who oversees a five-boat fleet that provides local restaurants with most of their fresh seafood, including squid.

Not to panic; our shared “Serengeti of the Sea” is still a pristine habitat. But warming waters along the West Coast have changed the waterscape — at least for now. For example, local squid fishermen have turned out their bright boat lights because the season is basically a bust.

“There’s no squid,” said Tringali. “No anchovies either. We’ve seen this before during El Niño.”

It’s quite typical for squid to move on during an El Niño period, according to professor William Gilly, squid expert for Pacific Grove’s Hopkins Marine Station, run by Stanford University.

“We saw a crash in landings in 1997-98 and again in 2009-10 (both El Niño years),” he said. Each time the fishery recovered with the return of the more familiar La Niña.

Gilly points to an anomalous offshore “blob” of warmer water (about 3 degrees above normal) that scientists actually began charting two years ago. This caused squid to move north (in this case), with fishermen landing schools as far away as Sitka, Alaska.

Surging demand in China, Japan, Mexico and Europe has boosted prices and launched a fishing frenzy worth more than $70 million a year. The vanishing act is a concern to fishermen, to wholesalers such as Tringali and to restaurant owners such as Kevin Phillips, who serves more than 1,000 pounds of fresh squid each week out of Abalonetti Bar and Grill on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Abalonetti has built such a renowned reputation as a calamari restaurant that Phillips hires an employee full time to clean and dress squid in a small room behind the restaurant.

“We have not run out yet,” Phillips said. “When Monterey Fish Company runs low, we get the last, then we have a few other sources for West Coast loligo.”

Phillips tries hard to maintain the quality of the squid served at Abalonetti, and isn’t shy about revealing the industry’s dirty little secret: “Many local restaurants, along with most of the country, are using Monterey Bay squid processed in Asia,” he said. “It comes ready to use.”

Much of the local catch — 90 percent of the 230 million pounds landed each season along the California coast — is frozen, shipped to China, unfrozen, processed, refrozen, packaged and sent back to the United States as part of a 12,000-mile journey that leaves one giant carbon footprint. It is genuine California squid, and cheaper and convenient, but the process doesn’t score high in the categories of freshness and sustainability.

When you own a restaurant, and customers create a voracious demand for calamari, some sacrifices must be made — especially during El Niño.

“My first choice is local squid caught and cleaned here,” said Sam Mercurio of Domenico’s on the Wharf. “When squid are running strong Monterey Fish will put aside some tonnage and freeze it for slower years. We also look to the East Coast, but the squid there is bigger, tougher and not as sweet. I’m always looking for the best product, not the cheapest. I’m so picky, if I don’t like what I see I ship it back.”

A fisherman himself, Mercurio relies on his relationship with his comrades to supply his restaurant with seafood.

“We know exactly where to source everything,” he said.

But these days that’s a challenge. It hasn’t been a good run for the entire Monterey Bay fishing industry. Once known as the Sardine Capital of the World, that fishery is currently closed due to low numbers (sardines are known for their wide-ranging “boom-and-bust” population cycles). Warm waters and a resulting neurotoxin undermined most of the Dungeness crab season. And the commercial California king salmon season started slowly May 1, with Monterey Bay boats reporting meager results.

But it’s the elusive squid that has everyone the most concerned.

“We’ve seen this before and have come close to running out,” Phillips said. “Sometimes it’s better to specialize in chicken wings.”


Read the original story: http://www.montereyherald.com/

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