California Market Squid

California Market Squid

Doryteuthis (Loligo) opalescens


    Squid, Pacific Loligo Squid, Opalescent Inshore Squid


    U.S. wild-caught from California



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California Market Squid

Market squid swim backwards by pumping water through valves near their heads.


Established in 1863, California’s market squid fishery expanded rapidly during the 1980s when international demand for squid increased due to declining squid fisheries in other parts of the world. Today, the fishery supplies the majority of market squid on the global market.

California’s market squid fishery is unique for several reasons. Fishermen usually fish for market squid at night directly above the spawning grounds where females lay their eggs. Squid seiners typically work with light boats—smaller vessels with several high-powered lights pointed from various angles. The lights attract groups of spawning squid to surface waters. Once a group of squid comes to the surface, the light boat signals the seiner to deploy its net, encircling the light boat, in order to catch the squid located under the lights.

Fishermen target spawning squid because they die shortly after they reproduce. Even without fishing, the entire population replaces itself annually. As a result, market squid populations can handle a relatively high amount of fishing pressure, but ensuring that fishermen capture squid that have already spawned is key to the production of the next generation and future health of the population.



Market squid are found from the southern tip of Baja California to southeastern Alaska, but are most abundant between Punta Eugenia in Baja California and Monterey Bay, California. They mainly live in the water column from the surface to depths of 2,600 feet. They prefer the salty ocean and are rarely found in estuaries, bays, or river mouths. Market squid migrate in enormous schools throughout the eastern Pacific from southeastern Alaska to Mexico.



Market squid is a fast-growing species with a short natural life span - they reproduce right before they die, around the age of 1. Market squid spawn year-round – around April through October in central California and October through the end of April or May in southern California. Spawning squid congregate in dense schools near their spawning grounds, usually over sandy habitats. Males deposit spermatophores into females, and the eggs are fertilized as females release them. Off California, a female squid produces approximately 20 egg cases, with each case containing about 200 individual eggs suspended in a gelatinous material. Females deposit the egg cases on the sandy floor, building large mounds of egg cases as spawning continues. Eggs take several days to a few months to hatch, depending on temperature. Newly hatched squid are called “paralarvae” and resemble miniature adults.

Juvenile market squid feed on small crustaceans. As they grow, they feed on krill, small crustaceans, small fish, and other squid. Market squid are a critical source of food for a wide variety of fish (such as salmon, lingcod, and rockfish), seabirds, and marine mammals.



Market squid are members of the mollusk family known as cephalopods, which means foot-on-head. They have eight arms and two tentacles that extend from the ends of their bodies where their mouths are located. They generally have a mixed, iridescent coloration of milky white and purple, but their coloring can change in response to environmental conditions. Market squid reach a maximum size of 1 foot total length, including their arms.



Recognizing the need for better scientific information on squid, scientists from the California Department of Fish and Game disclaimer and NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center have conducted cooperative research on market squid since 1997.



Short- and long-term changes in the market squid population are poorly understood, so there are no reliable estimates of population. Some researchers speculate that annual fluctuations in catch may reflect abundance patterns. Squid have a very short life span (6 to 9 months with a maximum of 10 to 12 months), and the entire population is replaced annually, even without fishing. The health of the squid population is dependent on successful spawning each year and survival of the young.


Harvesting Market Squid

Commercial fishing vessels primarily use purse seines to harvest squid. They also use scoop nets in the southern California fishery. Squid fishermen often use powerful lights to attract groups of squid to the surface where they are more easily captured.

The fishery takes place in northern California and southern California at different times of the year. The northern fishery season (mainly in Monterey Bay) traditionally occurs from April through November, and the southern fishery (mostly in the Channel Islands vicinity) begins in October and generally lasts through March.



Who’s in charge? California Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Fisheries, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council

Current management: The California Department of Fish and Game disclaimer has management authority over the market squid fishery. The state agency actively manages this fishery consistent with the federal fishery management guidelines (the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan disclaimer). The California Department of Fish and Game is able to react quickly to changes in the market squid population off California. Specific management measures include:

  • Seasonal catch limits.
  • Maintaining monitoring programs designed to evaluate the impact of the fishery on the resource.
  • Time and seasonal closures, including weekend closures that provide for periods of uninterrupted spawning and limitations on using lights to attract squid around several of the Channel Islands, an effort intended to protect nesting seabirds.
  • Permit system that limits access to the fishery.
  • The California Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Fisheries also cooperatively monitor the fishery to evaluate its impact on the resource.

Annual Harvest

All U.S. harvest of market squid comes from California. The 2010 landings totaled close to 288.4 million pounds. The 2011 landings totaled more than 267.9 million pounds, and in 2012 landings totaled more than 214.8 million pounds.



In California, most squid marketed for humans to eat is frozen; minor amounts are canned or sold fresh. The 2012 landings of market squid were valued at more than $63 million dollars. Demand for frozen squid in the United States is relatively small, so most of it is exported. In 2010, 119,442 metric tons of market squid were exported, primarily to China. The United States also exported market squid to the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Peru, and Spain. Domestic sales of market squid normally go to restaurants, Asian fresh fish markets, or for use as bait.



Market squid are an important source of bait for the California recreational fishing industry.



Hundreds of species of squid are found around the world, but fewer than a dozen comprise 90 percent of the global catch. Three of them are found in the United States: West Coast “market squid” (L. opalescens) and East Coast squid, including long-finned “winter squid” (L. pealei) and short-finned “summer squid” (Illex illecebrosus).

Fresh or thawed, raw squid should be moist, shiny, and ivory colored. Pink, yellow, or purple flesh indicates deterioration. Cooked squid is opaque white and firm and has a mild, subtly sweet taste. Edible parts of the squid include the arms (tentacles), mantle (tube), and fins (wings). The body is covered with a thin skin that may be removed before cooking. Squid ink is often used to make black pasta.






Squid are an excellent source of selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 92
Protein 15.58 g
Fat, total 1.38 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.358 g
Carbohydrate 3.08 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 233 mg
Selenium 44.8 mcg
Sodium 44 mg

California Market Squid Table of Nutrition