Step 1: The Fishermen

Interview with David Haworth, San Diego Commercial Fisherman

Fast Facts

  • Market squid is one of the many species that commercial fishermen David Haworth’s vessels catch.
  • This season has been terrible for market squid (earlier in Northern California, and now in the southern region) due in large part to the current El Niño conditions. 

Meet the Fisherman

David Haworth is a second generation San Diego fisherman with 40 years of fishing experience. He owns four commercial fishing vessels that target tuna, lobster, swordfish, sardine, and squid. He is on the Pacific Fishery Management Council Advisory Body as a Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel (CPSAS) member. He is also the Vice President of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Fishing for Market Squid

 Light boat at night. Photo credit: David Haworth.

Light boat at night. Photo credit: David Haworth.

Squid fishing is typically done in the dark. The boats will head out after the sun has set and fish until it rises, depending on how much they catch. Squid fishermen use powerful lights to attract squid to the surface and then catch them in purse seines, which are large nets that close like a drawstring coin purse. You can see a video of it in action here. After a night of fishing, they’ll head to the closest processing facility to offload the squid where they usually get frozen immediately.

When Haworth and his crew starting fishing for market squid about 15 years ago, they caught a lot more squid year-round. There weren’t enough boats to reach the limit (118,000 short tons), “so we’d fish some sardines, some mackerel, some tuna, and just whenever the squid showed, up we’d catch ‘em,” Haworth explained in an interview.

They also caught more because there just weren’t that many boats (and the boats that were there were smaller). Then things changed. 

“The squid market got better so a lot of people got involved in it and they started bringing a lot of bigger boats down from Canada.” Instead of fishing year-round and never reaching the quota, an increasing number of bigger boats mean that quota was reached after just four or five months. 

Increased competition, combined with El Niño conditions, means Haworth’s squid fishermen aren’t catch much right now. 

Selling Market Squid

After the squid is caught, Haworth and his crew sell the squid to a few different places. 

“It doesn’t have a shelf life,” Haworth explained, so they don’t sell much at the local Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. “After two or three days, it starts to turn red so we can’t keep it on ice.” And even though people are increasingly requesting local seafood, squid is still an intimidating one for many. 

“What we end up doing is taking it and selling it to a cannery or a processor that pumps it off [the vessel].” The processor then buys the fresh-caught squid at a set price per ton and freezes it, and it’s no longer Haworth’s problem. 

This is the prefered method because it’s a lot easier to sell directly to a processor than try to manage tons of fresh squid on his own.

In a good year, “we’re catching a hundred tons at a time so it’s way easier for us.” 

If there’s demand at the local markets, Haworth can buy it back after it’s frozen for a little bit more money per ton. So if you see squid at the market, it was most likely previously frozen. Luckily for consumers, squid doesn’t diminish in quality when it’s frozen and defrosted like many other of our favorite seafoods.

And squid is popular at the market. “We sell it every day,” said Haworth, “but not enough to pay the bills.”

The next step

The next step takes place at processing plants where the squid is frozen and then shipped off to a number of different destinations. Some stays here in California and other places in the U.S., but a huge portion of it gets exported overseas. Our next post will explore this step. Stay tuned!