The market squid fishery is busy at work on Monterey Bay. Market squid, also called calamari, are small invertebrates that periodically frequent shallower waters off the California coast. These slippery siblings of octopuses live very short lives (five to nine months) and produce heaps of eggs, somewhere on the order of 4,000 per female!

Squid vessels at night, lights ablaze, looking for market squid in Monterey Bay
CDFW photo by C. Wilson

The market squid fishery is busy at work on Monterey Bay. Market squid, also called calamari, are small invertebrates that periodically frequent shallower waters off the California coast. These slippery siblings of octopuses live very short lives (five to nine months) and produce heaps of eggs, somewhere on the order of 4,000 per female!

 

When conditions are right, squid show up in droves to mate, aka “spawn”. After spawning for just a few short days to weeks, they die as a natural part of their life cycle. These qualities lend to a high volume of squid available for fishermen, and a sustainable fishery.

If you see very bright lights from groups of boats on the water at night, it is likely the squid fishing fleet in action. The boats use lights because squid are attracted to the lights, which mimic the moon. This technique has been used for more than a century to aggregate squid at the surface.

In Monterey, the fishery for market squid began no later than 1863, when a Chinese fishing village was established near Mussel Point. The original fishing method involved rowing a skiff with a lit torch at the bow until a school of squid was attracted to it. Then, two other skiffs would maneuver around the school, wrapping it in a large net.

Squid are typically caught using a purse seine, a large circular net which is “pursed” at the bottom to contain the school. A long tube is then used to vacuum the squid out of the net and on to the boat. Only a limited number of vessels may fish for squid in California, and during the weekends (from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) squid fishing is closed to allow for uninterrupted spawning. Fishermen call the squid "Candy Bait" as there is not an ocean fish species that doesn't love the candy bait.

Fishing for market squid is a long-standing tradition in Monterey Bay and provides for a large export market. Fishermen eagerly await their arrival, especially around spring and summer on the central California coast when fishing is generally more successful. If history repeats itself, the vessels will move to Southern California in the fall, where the Channel Islands tend to be the hot spot for squid fishing; but in response to a changing climate, the range for this species (like others) may expand northward, forcing the fishing industry and the scientists studying squid to adapt as well!

California Squid Fishery In the Spotlight on the Central Coast.