Step 2: Processing in the United States

Interview with Mary Lou Gonzales, Sales Manager at Del Mar Seafoods

Fast Facts

  • Del Mar Seafoods catches, packages, freezes, and exports 80 million pounds of seafood annually, including anchovies, market squid, mackerel and sardines.
  • They catch nearly a quarter of the entire California market squid limit.
  • About half the squid that comes through gets shipped to destinations in China.

The Processing Facility

 Inside Del Mar Seafoods. Image courtesy of DMS.

Inside Del Mar Seafoods. Image courtesy of DMS.

Del Mar Seafoods is a family run operation with more than 40 years of experience in the fishing and processing industries. They catch, package, freeze, and export 80 million pounds of seafood every year, including anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and market squid. I recently spoke to Mary Lou Gonzales, sales manager at Del Mar Seafoods, who told me a little more about what happens to market squid after it’s caught.

Del Mar works with a total of 20 fishing vessels. Nine are owned by Del Mar Seafoods directly and the others are privately owned. After a night of fishing [link to fishing post], the vessels will head back to one of Del Mar Seafoods’ several unloading locations, depending on where the boat was fishing. The squid is then offloaded into totes with water and ice, loaded into refrigerated trucks, and driven to one of two processing plants. One is located in Central California in Monterey Bay (Watsonville, to be specific), which is the corporate processing center. The other is located in Oxnard, CA, just north of Los Angeles. They are both used to process market squid.

“On any give day between both facilities, we can pack about 1,000 tons of fish daily.” This gives them plenty of capacity during peak seasons.

Processing Market Squid in the U.S.

The process is very simple, Gonzales said. On a typical day during squid season, the squid will arrive at the facility around 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and is processed with water and ice within hours. That’s it. “Nothing else is added to the squid,” she told me. It’s then frozen whole round in various packaging styles. Whole round simply means that the squid is frozen whole - head, tentacles, guts and everything in tact. 

It’s typically packaged in 10 kilo boxes “and blast frozen in our public freezers.” 

Depending on demand, it can sit in the freezer for anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Luckily for the consumer, squid has a texture and consistency that doesn’t change when it’s frozen!

Where does it go?

“Del Mar Seafoods will catch about 30,000 tons of the California market squid limit” during a normal season, Gonzales explained. “Of those 30,000 tons, I would say at least half of that goes to China. We have many customers in China that use the squid for local domestic markets and for re-processing.”

The squid that isn’t shipped directly to China is split between other Asian and European markets. Gonzales said that Spain and Italy are two of the biggest markets there. 

 Cleaned calamari! Image courtesy of DMS.

Cleaned calamari! Image courtesy of DMS.

Of the approximately 15,000 tons that get shipped to China, only a fraction ends up back in U.S. markets. 

“Lately, we’ve been [importing] about 20 loads of cleaned squid per year, so that’s roughly 500 tons or less,” Gonzales said. The cleaned squid that gets shipped back to the U.S. is used for local distribution and is sold to local restaurants. The company has several trucks that deliver seafood (and squid, when it’s in season) to locations in Central and Southern California.

Though, “it’s a very small portion compared to what leaves and never comes back.” 

The next step:

Find out how California market squid is shipped overseas! We’ll have that story next.