The California squid fleet fished in favorable ocean conditions as the season kicked off on April 1.

Last year’s ocean water temperatures left an air of optimism that the effects from El Niño conditions in 2018 and 2019 had swung through normal (ENSO) temperatures, and that this year’s harvest would increase.

“We’re having a better year,” says Diane Pleschner-Steele , executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, in Buellton. “We saw the shift last summer, and we’re back into La Niña.”

Landings for 2020 came in at 55.27 thousand short tons, according to converted data from PacFIN. As of July in 2021, the fleet had landed 48.77 thousand short tons.

Though the fishery has been conducted at night in years past, Pleschner-Steele noted that boats had been fishing during the days and that some good catches had been coming from the waters near Monterey.

Another optimistic uptick for this year has been that ex-vessel offers are hitting around $1,200 per ton. That’s up from last year’s $1,000 per ton average. In recent years the bulk of West Coast squid has been exported to China. Trade wars between the United States and China entered full swing in 2018, and since then tariffs from both sides have hobbled product movement to the west.

In 2019, China imposed a 35 percent tariff on many U.S. seafood products, including squid. Combined with domestic retaliatory tariffs, the total to importers reached 52 percent. 

In September of last year, the USDA agreed to provide $530 million dollars to sectors of the seafood industry impacted by those stiff retaliatory tariffs imposed by the United States. Squid was among the species listed to receive the aid.

In a July 8 perusal of the harmonized tariff rate schedule for U.S. squid, it appears that the retaliatory rates have gone back to zero.

According to foreign trade data with NOAA, U.S. exports of West Coast squid to China added up to 12.58 million kilograms for a value of $48.60 million in 2019, then dropped to 11.93 million kilograms and a value of $35.01 million in 2020. As of July, West Coast squid exports stood at 6.86 million kilograms for a value of $19.14 million.

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Charlie Ess is the North Pacific Bureau Chief for National Fisherman.

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