Sal Sanchat shovels ice as squid are offloaded during one of the busiest days of the season at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.
Those venturing on a late-night trip along the San Mateo County coastline could be in for a spectacular sight as the ocean has been spotted with lights from fishermen stringing in heaps of squid off Pillar Point Harbor.
About two weeks ago, squid began to gather in masses just a few miles from the coast of Half Moon Bay, said Pietro Parravano, president of the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners.
“At night, the coastline is dotted with the lights of the squid boats. … The way they attract the squid is they turn on these really powerful lights and it attracts the squid to the surface because squid usually hang out at the bottom,” Parravano said. “And they fish at night so when they unload it’s early in the morning and it’s quite a sight to see.”
Unlike fishing for crab or salmon, there is no set season for squid, fisherman Porter McHenry said. Instead, it depends on when the slimy creatures decide to show and ends when a statewide quota is maxed out, McHenry said. This year, the state capped the amount of catchable squid at 118,000 tons. Last year, the season started around July and closed in October, the year before it ended in November, McHenry said.
There is more pressure to go fishing when squid appear, McHenry said, because, “you don’t know when there’s going to be an end to the season.
Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said watching the pace of the activity at the harbor is truly impressive. The plentiful catch appears to be attracting boats from as far north as Canada and up from Southern California to participate in the limited season, Brennan said.
“It’s a derby fishery. They have to fish as much as they can as fast as they can,” Brennan said. “It’s like a gold rush, so you’re incentivized to catch as much as you can because they can pull the plug on it at any time.”
McHenry, who also fishes for salmon and crab, said seeking squid is a whole other ball game, McHenry said.
“It usually takes a bigger operation, bigger boat, more crew, more of an investment in gear. There’s only 62 permits for the state, so it’s pretty hard to get into,” McHenry said.
McHenry said he’s working on a crew of five men off a 65-foot boat that can hold up to 60 tons of squid.
Currently, squid goes for about 32.5 cents per pound, or $650 per ton, McHenry said.
Since the district updated its leases for the pier’s three offloading facilities, as of 2013, the district now takes in $10 per ton of squid that’s brought into Pillar Point Harbor, Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell said.
The morning after squid fishing brings a flurry of activity to the end of Johnson Pier, as squid must be frozen within a few hours of being offloaded, Parravano said.
“They load them up and take them down to Watsonville to take them down to cold storage. So you’ve got to get them in right away because they’re extremely perishable. … So the timing is really critical,” Parravano said.
Brennan said those who have traveled to the coast are helping to support the harbor too.
“They’re bringing in a ton of squid, just an incredible amount. They’re coming a distance for this. It’s worth their while to do this,” Brennan said. “Some are getting hotels and they need to feed their crews so they’re spending money which is great for our local economy. They’re buying fuel, they’re buying ice; so it’s been really good.”
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