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Shellfish Focus: Squid

Both global and domestic markets see growing demand but shorter supply

Joanne Friedrick
November 01, 2005

While demand for squid is expanding worldwide, global production is in decline.

In the United States, commercial landings for East Coast squid, including longfin winter squid (Loligo pealei) and shortfin summer squid (Illex illecebrosus) totaled 11,919 metric tons in 2003.

Landings of Pacific, or market, squid (L. opalescens) were 39,330 metric tons that year.

By contrast, in 1994, harvests of longfin squid peaked at 23,000 metric tons, while 2000 was the top year for market squid, with some 113,000 metric tons landed.

The decline in foreign supplies is partly due to climatic changes, say industry experts. Most squid have only a one-year life cycle, so the slightest fluctuations in water temperature or weather conditions can play havoc with the market. Meanwhile, quotas to protect squid stocks have squeezed domestic supplies.

Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese catches of Asian squid (L. formosa) were greatly affected by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in late December, says James Magee, vice president of sales for Ruggiero Seafood in Newark, N.J.

“Their season was affected,” he notes, resulting in “poor production and high prices.”

“The seasons can vary,” concurs Peter Huh, president of Pacific American Fish Co. in Los Angeles. “[Squid] are sensitive to temperature, so they might migrate differently.”

But a down year isn’t limited to the tsunami-ravaged area. Magee says production of another Asian variety, L. chinensis, is off by 30 to 40 percent. Peru’s fishery, which yields the Patagonian squid (L. gahi), is
also experiencing poor production, he says.

“They blame everything on El Niño, even though that was five years ago,” he says.

(An El Niño is a major warming of equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño events usually occur every three to seven years, usually around Christmas, and are characterized by significant shifts in “normal” weather patterns worldwide. The strongest El Niño to date occurred in 1997-98.)

Lower production, coupled with higher fuel costs and a strong euro, has pushed squid prices higher than they’ve been in the past, says Magee.

Huh agrees, noting the price of 500-gram (17.5-ounce) whole illex from The Falkland Islands and 400- to 600-gram (14- to 21-ounce) whole arrow squid from New Zealand are at $1.10 per pound and 91 cents per pound, respectively, this year versus 90 cents and 63 cents in 2004.

Asian, Indian and Peruvian loligo prices are climbing as well. Tubes and tentacles are selling at $1.43 per pound, compared to $1.18 per pound in 2004 and $1.28 in 2003.

Limited domestic catch
Looking at the domestic harvest, Vanessa DeLuca, who manages imports and exports for State Fish Co. in San Pedro, Calif., says the company saw its best year in 1996 for market squid. And even though landings have fluctuated in recent years, “it has been able to supply the demand,” she says.

But so far this year, catches have been limited, notes Rick Mayer, president and general manager of Marcus Food Co.’s Fisheries Division in Camarillo, Calif.

The main season for market squid begins in October, although “last year,” he notes, “we started a month late in November,” and production was “much reduced” from the previous two years.

“We had a semi-El Niño last year,” he said, “and whenever you have one, it reduces catches.”

The summer was slow as well, says Mayer. “We had near-normal conditions, but we caught almost nothing.”

Restrictions on harvest areas are also putting a squeeze on the market, he notes.

“There is less and less space to fish in and less time for fishing,” he says, adding that a “significant portion” of the fishing grounds off the California coast have been roped off for a marine preserve.

“In the long run, it will be good” for squid stocks, says Mayer, but it has been challenging as suppliers try to keep up with demand.

According to Mike Burner of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, there is no quota for market squid, but the council has implemented a harvest control tied to the squid’s ability to reproduce successfully. The season remains open, said Burner, until signs of reproductive failure within the squid population are observed. This threshold was established in 2002, he says.

On the East Coast, catches of both illex and loligo are down, says Eric Reid, president and owner of Deep Sea Fish of Rhode Island in Warwick, R.I.

He says the illex supply thus far “has been poor. It’s not near the banner year of last year.”

He calls 2004 “an anomaly,” with near perfect fishing, market conditions and sizes. But, this year’s illex season, which runs from July to October, yielded fairly small squid, less than 3.5 ounces, although sizes toward the end of the season were in the 3.5- to 7-ounce stage.

The East Coast loligo season, which is divided into quarters, produced good fishing from January through March, says Reid, but was fairly slow in the following quarters.

Ruggiero's Magee says the East Coast market is seeing the highest prices it has ever seen — $2.80 per pound for 5-inch to 8-inch tubes and tentacles and $3.30 for 5-inch to 8-inch tubes — in part because of the increased cost of fuel in the wake of dual hurricanes in the Gulf and partly because of the quota system.

The quota impact
According to Richard Seagraves, fishery management specialist with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, quotas for both East Coast species have remained the same in recent years, at 24,000 metric tons for illex and 17,000 metric tons for loligo.

However, there have been closures during the seasons when catches have reached their maximum allowable levels.

For loligo, a quarter is closed when 80 percent of the quota is taken; it is reopened the following quarter, explains Seagraves. For illex, which operates on a yearly fishing season, the size of the catch per trip is lowered when 95 percent of the yearly catch level is achieved. Loligo also experiences reduced catch sizes when 95 percent of the total quota for the year is reached.

While October through April is the peak period, last year loligo fishing was closed down for two months out of the six.

“It helps protect the resource,” Magee explains, “but then the price is high.”

Reid says the market for product this winter is “up in the air,” mainly because of competition from the Patagonian squid.

Even though all parts of the world are experiencing some shortfalls, he says, “the real trend in loligo is more and more competition for imported finished goods from Peru or China.”

Indeed, the United States still imports more squid than it exports, according to statistics from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Edible fresh or frozen squid imports for 2003 are at 54,686 metric tons and at 50,309 metric tons in 2004; exports in those years were at 21,868 metric tons and 34,885 metric tons, respectively.

Huh of Pacific American Fish says he imports squid in a variety of forms — whole, whole cleaned, tubes and tentacles, tubes, rings, steaks and strips. Asian and mainstream restaurants purchase primarily tubes, tubes and tentacles and rings, he says, and have some interest in strips and steaks. The retail trade, especially Asian ethnic stores, buy whole and whole cleaned product, he says.

Whole blocks of squid are sold for export to China, The Philippines, Spain, Italy and Venezuela, says DeLuca of State Fish Co.

Mayer adds that 90 percent of his catch is exported all over the world, ranging from Europe and the Mediterranean to Asia, South America and even Canada. In addition, he says, “we may process some overseas and bring it back here as cleaned squid.”

Market potential
Citing squid, or calamari, as “one of the fastest-growing appetizer forms,” Huh says consumers’ acceptance of squid on menus “continues to blossom.”

He has seen it featured as the traditional fried calamari and also lightly blanched for salads and pasta dishes and in both Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.

“Once [consumers] try it, they really like it,” he says.

Seafood retailer and wholesaler Charlotte Klein Sasso, who co-owns Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett, N.Y., says she sells squid throughout the year, even making her own squid salad, although squid is especially popular at the holidays when Italian customers make it part of their traditional Christmas Eve meal.

 Because squid is highly perishable, it needs to be kept frozen and then held in ice or an icewater slurry. Fresh squid has a creamy ivory or white color, and a brighter white if it has been bleached.

Some species, such as L. opalescens, also have reddish brown spots. These are normal, says Sasso, but the spots should be clear, not runny looking, which can be a sign the squid is starting to deteriorate.

The flesh shouldn’t be slimy, she adds, “and the tentacles should almost grip you.”

 November 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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