WDFW renews Puget Sound squid dockside surveys for the 2023–2024 season; last survey conducted in 2016–2017
WDFW dockside creel surveyors can be easily identified by their agency logo or a bright reflective orange vest; anglers are asked to cooperate when approached.
During fall and winter, there’s a group of anglers who gather mainly at night along Puget Sound piers to try their luck at catching squid.
Squid jigging has become a popular fishing activity, and part of how the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fishery managers support a sustainable squid population is through angler catch-and-effort surveys throughout the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.
“We’d like to let anglers know about our creel surveys and want them to understand that the work will provide valuable information about squid in our local waters,” said Camille Speck, the WDFW Puget Sound intertidal shellfish manager. “This study will give us new information about the recreational fishery and provide insights into this species’ life history, migration, growth, and abundance.”
In 2016 and 2017, WDFW conducted a pilot creel survey of 518 creel interviews encompassing 648 anglers to monitor effort and harvest throughout Puget Sound. Other information collected included biological data and fishing frequency of anglers. The creel surveys also explored the bycatch (other unintended fish or marine species not targeted in the fishery), which were considered relatively low.
For the 2023–2024 season, plans by WDFW call for a more robust monitoring of the Puget Sound squid fishery, which began this past July and will continue through the end of January.
“Angler activity was light in July and August, but in September’s sampling we’ve already exceeded the number of surveys we did during the entire 2016–2017 season,” said Roy Clark, WDFW squid manager. “This season, we’re exploring different ways to communicate with anglers since it is such a diverse community. So far, most have been willing to answer our questions once they understand what it’s all about and know that it won’t take up too much of their time.”
WDFW dockside creel surveyors can be easily identified by their agency logo or a bright reflective orange vest, and anglers are asked to cooperate when approached. The surveyors will ask a few simple questions about what time each angler started fishing and when they plan to quit, as well as home zip code, which helps paint a picture of fishing group demographics. Samplers will count the number of squid caught and weigh each person’s total catch.
To raise more awareness of the surveys, WDFW plans to also post informational signs on piers in multiple languages and will have a QR code to explain more about the ongoing study.
This past September, Clark says, early takeaways from their initial surveys showed most of the early squid catch consisted of smaller size squid with a few bigger ones mixed in. Part of WDFW’s study is to improve understanding of squid life history and population dynamics in Puget Sound waters.
WDFW staff will conduct their own dockside test fishing rather than collecting biological samples from fishers. Squid caught in the study will be brought back to the lab to collect biological and morphometric data like individual weight, lengths of the mantle, legs, and tentacles, as well as sex and gonadal development.
Students at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic Fishery Sciences Department are also teaming up with WDFW staff to conduct a study on prey analysis and looking at the stomach content of the squid.
The squid jigging fishery continues to see a substantial increase in participation over the past decade, especially since accessibility is easy and success rates can be good when squid returns are strong — although it does vary from year-to-year.
“We know the squid population is an important part of the entire food chain in Puget Sound and critical from an ecological standpoint,” Clark said. “As fishery managers, we understand that assessing the recreational squid fishery is a good tool for understanding more about the squid populations in our local marine waterways.”
There are more than 300 known species of squid worldwide that have been identified. The majority of squid that are caught in Puget Sound are referred to as “Pacific coast California market squid”. These squid tend to measure four to 10 inches with a short-term, less than one-year life cycle.
Biologically, squid belongs to a class of mollusks known as cephalopods, which also include octopus. Squid are decapods, having eight arms and two tentacles for grasping prey and mating, compared to the eight arms of an octopus. They’re also free-swimming creatures and exhibit schooling behavior like many species of fish. Schools of squid are known as shoals.
Squid have a long-tapered body and triangular tail fins; these fast-moving mollusks are also known as calamari in the culinary world.
Millions of these jet-propelled squid migrate into Puget Sound and many other areas along the coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Squid spawn throughout the year but the peak timing occurs from September through February.
Squid in Puget Sound lay their eggs along the gentle sloping, sandy bottom near kelp beds and rocky areas, although it is not uncommon to find squid egg masses in the intertidal zone. They carry a huge appetite, gorging on small baitfish like herring and candlefish, and zooplankton, as well as a colorful jig bouncing up and down on the end of a fishing rod.
The Humboldt squid, while not usually found along inner-waterways — are mainly encountered off the Washington coast by anglers fishing for tuna — have been found in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and Hood Canal.
Most Humboldt squid can be found off the coasts of central and South America, but this species has extended its range to the north, mainly during the late summer and early fall months when the water temperatures are at their highest.
Researchers believe Humboldt squid also have a short life span and live for only one year, but there is some evidence they may live up to four years. Humboldt squid have been known to grow to a length of seven feet and weigh up to 100 pounds.
There is little commercial fishing for squid in Puget Sound, with only a handful of licensees and very limited success reported in recent years.
Recreational fishing is open year-round for all species of squid. The daily limit is 10 pounds or five quarts of market squid and all other species, plus up to five Humboldt squid may be harvested, with no minimum size.
Besides a fishing rod, other allowable gear includes forage fish dip net or handheld dip net. Each angler must keep their catch in separate containers. Keep in mind there are closures around marine preserves, conservation areas, and shellfish protection areas. A state shellfish/seaweed, fishing/shellfish combo or Fish Washington license is required for those 15 years of age and older. You can find out more by going to the WDFW fishing regulations webpage.