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Captain’s Log: Squid, the ‘Candy of the Sea,’ a Driver of the Oceanic Food Chain

Squid are one of those critters that drive the oceanic food chain. They occupy a pivotal point in the food chain, from our perspective, because they eat mostly stuff we don’t care about (though they’ll eat most anything), and they feed fish that we care a great deal about.

Squid come up out of the depths of the abyss at nighttime to feed voraciously on nearly anything they can wrap their tentacles around. They are overly courageous, and these feeding attempts sometimes wind up with a squid serving as dinner because it went after something higher in the food chain.

At gray light, they move en masse back to the relative safety of the deep basins and canyons of the sea.

Periodically, squid come up very near the beach and spend several days and nights in the spawning process. Much of the action is at night, then during the day the squid mill about and frequently remain very near the seafloor, but in just 40 to 120 feet of water. That is when they are most vulnerable to fish and fisherfolk.

Some fish, like white seabass, have exceptionally good eyesight in dark and murky waters. They can scarf up squid with just a half moon or better to light the way, and their favorite time to feed is during the early morning gray light period. White seabass are basically big hungry brutes, and they will often take a squid that looks easy to catch at any time of day. That is the basis of our fishing strategy for white seabass.

Other highly prized fish feed happily on squid, including California halibut. These flatfish lie on the bottom and wait. They are masterful ambush predators. A thick layer of squid eggs on the bottom is somewhat of a hindrance to halibut but they always seem to find a way to feed.

Then there is the value of the squid themselves. A huge market exists for the “candy of the sea,” as squid are often called. People like calamari (squid), and a great deal of it is packaged and sold for bait at shops, including mine — Hook, Line & Sinker at 4010 Calle Real in Santa Barbara.

These past few years have been very good for squid, in terms of maintaining high populations. Conditions have been conducive to successful squid spawns as quickly as their bodies can prepare for the reproduction process. Commercial squid fishers have met their quotas early in the season.

Squid are carefully managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the California Fish & Game Commission. This is a fisheries management and an ecological success story.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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