The kraken of Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay, known as the “sardine and abalone capital of the world,” is also known as the “calamari capital of the world.” Calamari, much smaller than the mythical beast, the kraken, and usually ordered breaded or fried, is known by some as the “poor man’s abalone.”

Overall, squid as a species have been subject to intense fishing pressure in recent years, which is thought to be a “good alternative,” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. In isolation, squid are a sustainable resource, as their population replaces itself every year. Squid typically only live nine to 12 months and reproduce right before they die.

The short life cycle for squid makes them ideal for fisher folk as well as consumers. In addition to being high in protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and low in fat, squid do not bioaccumulate large amounts of mercury or microplastics commonly found in both top carnivorous predators and filter-feeding marine creatures.

Commercial fishing for squid operates under an annual quota, the maximum allowed capture, and is timed during the months of October through April, the spawning season of squid. The idea is that the squid will have mated and deposited their eggs on the sandy bottoms of Monterey Bay before being captured by fishing vessels.

Economically, squid are essential to Monterey Bay’s commercial fishery. Over half of the value for the commercial fishing landings in the Monterey Bay come from market squid, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Of the $13 million total value of the Monterey Region commercial fishing landings, over $7 million came from market squid alone.

The rest of the region’s commercial fishing value comes from a variety of species including chinook salmon, albacore tuna, dungeness crab, sablefish (black cod), a variety of rockfish, halibut and lingcod. One half is squid, the other half is everything else.

Once the squid has been caught, some of it is sold locally and fresh to restaurants, frozen as bait and or exported to Asia where a portion will be processed, packaged and sold back to the United States.

Occasionally, the squid population will plummet due to natural oscillations in the squid population, which is thought to be connected to El Niño events, where changes in wind conditions over the Pacific Ocean push warmer than usual water towards the American continent. The warmer waters reduce upwelling driven by the usual conditions over the North American West Coast, which reduces nutrient availability. Due to the reduced nutrients cycled into the Monterey Bay through upwelling, plankton have less food, and the result is less squid as well. As ocean temperatures warm along with climatic changes in other physical ocean variables like ocean acidification, squid populations could become increasingly unstable.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the population level and fishing rate for squid is unknown due to the relatively quick time between generations of squid. Short and long-term changes in the squid population are also poorly understood, and currently there is no reliable way for management agencies to estimate populations.

While the harvesting techniques for squid have minimal direct environmental impact and low by-catch, squid is a critical food source for salmon, lingcod, rockfish, seabirds and marine mammals, and is used by recreational and subsistence fishers as bait.

Squid is are the center of both the ecology and the economics of Monterey Bay’s fishery, if the squid go, other species along with the industry could collapse. Unlike the ship sinking monster of myth, the Kraken of the Monterey Bay keeps our fishing vessels afloat.

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