Thursday, May 19, 2011
Glowing boats bob in the night off Pacific Grove’s coast, their lights luring lusty Loligo opalescens from the depths. The romantic sight marks the return of Monterey Bay’s 150-year-old market squid fishery after an unofficial fishermen’s strike threatened to delay this year’s harvest.
When the squid season began April 1, local fishermen held back in hopes of pressuring processors to bump the price of calamari from $500 to $600 per ton, according to David Haworth, vice president of the California Wetfish Producers Association.
Blame it on gas prices: Boat captains, who aren’t unionized, negotiated with the four local squid processors in hopes of recovering some of their increased fuel costs. But the processors, who ship squid to Europe and China, are feeling the squeeze too.
“Our costs are up because of ocean freight being higher,” says Sal Tringali of the Salinas-based Monterey Fish Company. “The fuel’s killing us.”
Fishermen and processors were still at an impasse in early May. But some of the captains couldn’t pass up a good squid year, even at $500 per ton. Once they’d broken the liquid picket line, Haworth says, the other boats resumed fishing too.
The catch has been good: Royal Seafood founder Joe Pennisi says his son, Gino, recently unloaded 200 tons in a single evening.
“When there’s quantity,” he says, “you don’t worry about the price so much.”
There’s quality, too: Monterey Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer says the catch is weighing in at a hearty eight squid per pound. “Between squid and salmon,” he says, “it’s great to see the harbor alive with commercial activity.”
Professor Bill Gilly, a cephalopod expert with Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine station, was happy to see the squid fishing boats outside his lab on the Pacific Grove shoreline last week. He’s particularly interested in the relative abundance of market squid in the notable absence of its hulking cousin, Humboldt squid.
The Humboldt population, which spiked off the Central Coast just a few years ago, seems to have nearly vanished after the El Niño-like event of 2009-10, Gilly says. When the Humboldts left, one of their favorite snacks – the market squid – came back.
“It is possible that we have lot of market squid in the bay when there are no Humboldt squid in nearby waters,” he says.
That’s good news for fishermen: Although Humboldt squid make for thick calamari steaks, Gilly says, California’s commercial fleet isn’t well geared to catch them.
The night lights that signal squid fishing, meanwhile, add a nostalgic touch to the shoreline. The Chinese fishermen of Pacific Grove began harvesting squid in the 1860s; it is now one of the state’s most valuable fisheries.