Marine Life

Inked In Black: The Value Of Market Squid In Monterey Bay

By Brady Latham and Carol Reeb

Market squid create one of California’s most valuable fisheries.  Due to its high quality as a fishery product, these squid are much sought-after by seafood traders around the world. In fact, California has become one of the world’s biggest squid suppliers.  A growing taste for squid in restaurants has created a demand that now exceeds supply.  As a result, the value of squid is on the rise.  Check out the video below on the value of market squid in Monterey Bay from the perspective of a scientist, a student, a restauranteur, and fisherman.

A Native California Species:

Several species of market squid inhabit the world’s oceans.  However, California’s species (Doryteuthis opalescens) is native to the Pacific coast of North America.  These squid range  from Baja (Mexico) to southeastern Alaska.  The biogeographic distribution of market squid is similar to Pacific salmon and steelhead trout, which are also native to California.

Market Squid Fishery Management:

Squid catch is landed at six California ports. The fishery is divided into northern and southern regions. The northern fishery is active from April – September while fishing operations in the south run from October to March.

Monterey Bay and the Channel Islands form the centers of the northern and southern market squid fisheries in California.  Today, these centers lie within two marine sanctuaries.  Several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Preserves have been established on traditional squid fishing grounds, as well.  Commercial fishing in these areas is now limited or restricted.  One benefit of  MPAs and marine preserves is to create replenishment areas for market squid and other fishery species.  In the case of  Año Nuevo, which is an island known for its elephant seal and sea lion rookeries,  restrictions  help ensure adequate squid for the diets of these federally protected marine mammals.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is responsible for managing the market squid resource.  Goals of the Market Squid Fishery Management Plan are:

 1.) to ensure long-term sustainability and conservation of the resource, and

2.) develop a management framework that is responsive to environmental and socio-economic changes.

Market Squid Regulations:

     – Seasonal catch limited to 118,000 tons (236 million pounds).

     – Weekend closures (from noon Friday to noon Sunday).

     – Squid monitoring (port sampling and logbooks).

     – Limited entry permits  (In 2012, 71 purse seiners, 34 light boats, and 41 brail vessels were permitted.  Of these, 66 purse seiners and 26 brail vessels actually landed squid).

In recent years, a tremendous abundance of market squid has forced the fishing season to close early because the catch limit was met (see San Francisco Chronicle story).

Scientific Uncertainties:

Fluctuations in squid abundance are poorly understood and impossible to predict.  Another problem is that scientists have no idea how big squid populations are either.  Such gaps of knowledge make fishery management difficult.  Nonetheless, we now know ocean temperature plays an important role in squid abundance.  One day, we may be able to predict good and bad years for squid fishing by learning to forecast ocean conditions, much like we do the weather.  In the meantime, much research still needs to be done.

Squid As Food:

Excellent seafood dishes, including Cioppino.

Phil’s Seafood Market, Moss Landing, CA.
Excellent seafood dishes, including Cioppino.

In restaurants, squid are  commonly referred to by their Italian name, “calamari”.  They provide a low fat, high protein seafood that is rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program as a GOOD ALTERNATIVE choice.  One piece of fried calamari has about 1.5g of protein.  According to Phil’s Fish Market owner, Phil DiGirolamo, squid from Monterey Bay does not shrink in the pan and maintains a unique flavor and texture that is unlike squid  imported from elsewhere.  This is one reason why locally caught squid are preferred in Monterey area restaurants.

In addition to humans, many ocean species depend on squid for food.  Aside from fish, birds, and marine mammals, various species of crabs, shrimp, octopi, and sea stars comprise a community of scavengers that feast on post-spawning squid.  This fascinating YouTube video, Night of the Cephs, illustrates the importance of market squid to the benthic marine community.

Potential Threats to Market Squid:

1.) Climate change and its impact on ocean temperatures.  Warming temperatures could be problematic for squid.

2.) Expansion of the much larger Humbolt squid from the south with warming coastal waters.  Humbolt squid are voracious predators and enjoy the taste of Doryteuthis species.

3.) Hypoxia caused by upwelling events that draw cold, low-oxygen water from the deep sea  onto the  shelf where it can cause large-scale fish die-offs.

4.) Coastal pollution, especially in proximity of squid  nurseries.  Recent proposals to develop seawater desalination facilities along California’s coast could create dense  plumes of brine that have the potential to sink and settle overtop the vast white carpets of  egg capsules on the seafloor, if not properly mitigated.  No one knows how brine will impact developing squid embryos or the many other species comprising marine benthic communities.

Squid Facts:

  • Market Squid’s life span is typically 8-9 months.
  • A single female produces approximately 3,488 eggs.
  • Squid fishing began in 1863 by Chinese fishermen on Monterey Bay.  Torches were used to attract squid at night from small skiffs.
  • Today, many squid fishers are the descendants of Italian fishermen.  Italians introduced lampara net technology in the early 1900’s.
  • From 1916 – 1923, annual squid catch averaged less than 2 million pounds.
  • Before 1961, the majority of squid were harvested from Monterey Bay.
  • Prior to 1998, California’s market squid fishery was an open fishery with few regulations.


(CDFW) Cal Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2005. Final Market Squid Fishery Management Plan. State of California Resources Agency Department of Fish and Game Marine Region. Available from:

(CDFW) Cal Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Status of the Fisheries Report: California Market Squid. Available at:‎.

Zeidberg LD, Butler JL, Ramon D, Cossio A, , Stierhoff KL Henry A. 2011. Estimation of spawning habitats of market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) from field surveys of eggs off Central and Southern California. Marine Ecology. 33: 326-336.

Additional Readings:

California Wetfish Producers Association

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife:  Market Squid

Calamari Time!  California oceans teeming with squid

Squid Squabble Surface in California

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