Squid pro quo: Cooler ocean means better business for squid fishermen off La Jolla

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Though a cool and wet start to 2023 had many locals lamenting the weather, coastal fishermen and seafood lovers are celebrating an environmental perk: the proliferation of squid off La Jolla’s coast.

La Jolla residents and others have been seeing more fishing boats than usual off The Cove, lighting the ocean at night. Their crews are working to catch scores of what are commonly referred to as California market squid.

The squid are about 8 to 10 inches long without their tentacles and have a life span of six to nine months.

The species, called Doryteuthis opalescens, is “very mysterious,” according to Ed Parnell, a marine ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. “They’re very hard to follow.”

The squid are spawning and will be for a few weeks, Parnell said.

The squid spawn dynamically and sporadically, he said, depending on environmental conditions, primarily cool ocean water.

“This event that we’re having now really hasn’t happened since about 2009 to 2012,” Parnell said. Warmer ocean water in recent years had caused the squid to gradually shift north up the California coast, he said.

“It’s a historical thing that happens,” said independent commercial fisherman John Law. He said the squid currently are abundant from the underwater canyons off Scripps Pier down to Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and even into Baja California, Mexico.

“There’s a great history of squid research here in La Jolla,” Parnell said. The local waters were the research site for the first scientific diving paper on the spawning of squid, written by John McGowan in 1954.

Catching squid is a “team effort,” said San Diego fisherman Kelly Fukushima.

The squid feed at night, so catching them requires two boats: one to scout the squid and use lights to aggregate a school and a second to catch and haul in the squid.

The number of fishing boats off La Jolla has been growing lately with a surge of squid.

(Elisabeth Frausto)

The current tide of boats includes several from Los Angeles, which will return with their catches to ship and process the squid to various markets.

But squid fishermen aren’t the only ones on the water. The wave of squid also is a boon for other anglers, as squid are bait for many types of fish, including yellowtail, halibut and white sea bass.

The California market squid makes for an “extremely healthy fishery” across the state in volume and dollars, Fukushima said. “It’s an incredibly important commercial species.”

And there will be more. The female squid lay their embryos (their eggs are fertilized before they are laid) in clusters by the dozen called “mops,” Parnell said. Each mop contains about 20 sacs with about 200 embryos per sac.

A still from a 2013 video of the sea bed off La Jolla shows a "mop" of squid embryo sacs.

A still from a 2013 video of the sea bed off La Jolla shows a “mop” of squid embryo sacs.

(Provided by Ed Parnell)

“The squid are very, very [fertile],” Parnell said, which is how they survive “despite the fact that they’re so short-lived.”

The eggs typically take about a month to hatch from the time they are laid, and the young squid grow quickly.

“It’s a good thing,” Law said. ◆

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