The Squid Are In!

By Jim Covel, Director of Guest Experience

When we say “the squid are in,” we could be talking about the Aquarium’s new special exhibition, Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes. However, at this time of the year we’re talking about the annual spawning run of market squid in Monterey Bay. 

Many a night in the past month I’ve awoken to an eerie green glow in my bedroom window, emanating from the bay. This isn’t an alien sighting, but it could be described as a visitation from a bygone era. The green light is used by squid fishers to lure these cagey cephalopods near the surface where they can be more easily caught. Large purse seiner boats quickly encircle the concentrated schools and haul them aboard by the ton. Market squid is the largest commercial fishery in Monterey Bay, with the catch running into thousands of tons in a good year—and by all accounts 2014 is turning out to be a great squid year in Monterey Bay.

Part of our history

The squid fishery is a remnant of Monterey’s past. Chinese fishers came to Monterey in the 1850s and are credited with starting commercial fishing in the bay, including squid. They developed the technique of fishing at night, with a fire burning in a wire basket suspended over the gunwhale of a sampan boat.  Squid would rise to the light and were easily dipped out with a net. In those days the squid were salted and dried for shipment to Asia.

Today the process is largely the same, although the scale has increased dramatically. Specialized electric lights that emit a green light have replaced the flame in a basket. The sampans are long gone and today there are large purse seiners that can land as much as 40 tons of squid in a few hours. Much of our Monterey squid still goes to China to be processed, as well as Taiwan or India. That squid is consumed in Asia or shipped around the world—including the United States. So even when you’re eating market squid caught in California, odds are that it has traveled across the Pacific for processing.

That’s a lot of squid

The statewide limit is 118,000 short tons, set by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. After the season starts April 1, squid landings are reported every week. (The total through June 6 was 7,323 short tons.) When the total for all landings reach the limit, the fishery is closed for that year. Some years that limit is never reached; in other years the total may be reached in six to eight months. In order to give the squid (and fishers) a break, there is no commercial squid fishing from noon Friday through noon Sunday. On average, the squid fishery earns over $70 million per year in California. 

Right now the Aquarium feels like “squid central.” From the deck we can watch over a dozen purse seiners fishing for squid next to the Monterey and Pacific Grove. Inside, we can watch the amazing behaviors of several species of live squid on display in Tentacles exhibit. And if that isn’t enough, Cindy’s Waterfront Restaurant at the Aquarium serves some very tasty calamari!

Read our Seafood Watch recommendation for market squid

Notes

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    when i got out of high school packing squid was a hella good job- it paid over $5 an hour in 81
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About me

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, perched on the edge of a world-famous coastline, is your window to the wonders of the ocean. It’s located on historic Cannery Row in Monterey and is open daily except Christmas Day.

For more information about our animals and exhibits, and to view our live web cams, please visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.

Hours of operation vary by season. Daily schedules and tickets are available on our website or by calling
(831) 648-4800.