Round-haul nets such as the purse seine have seen use in California since the mid-1800's, when Chinese fishermen rowed Monterey Bay at night in sampans, carrying baskets filled with burning fat pine in the bow -- torches to attract squid. The Chinese surrounded the squid schools with small seines and pulled the nets by hand, requiring the effort of 10 to 12 men. In the early 1900's immigrant Sicilian fishermen introduced the lampara, a type of round-haul net used successfully in the Mediterranean, to catch squid and sardines in the new world. The enterprise of these immigrants largely built the fishing ports of Monterey and San Pedro.
Today, California fishermen employ updated versions of the old purse seine and lampara nets to catch a variety of "wetfish", so called because these fish are packed in the can with minimal pre-processing and cooked at high temperature in a retort. Anchovy, mackerel, and sardines are typically called wetfish. California's round-haul fleet also lands squid, bonito, and tuna with round-haul nets. Squid are fished in the Half Moon Bay - Monterey area and in southern California. Bonito and light-meat tunas such as yellowfish and skipjack are primarily caught in southern California. Round-haul fishermen also fish Pacific herring with purse seine nets in San Francisco Bay.
Round-haul nets like purse seine and lampara work on the same general idea -- to encircle fish in a bag of webbing. Today a motor skiff quickly deploys the net around a school of fish. The lampara has a large central bag of webbing and short wings of larger mesh, hung so the leadline at the bottom of the net is pulled in advance of the corkline at the top. With both wings pulled simultaneously, the leadline closes, drawing the net into a scoop. In the purse seine, the landing bag, with its smaller mesh, is at the end of the net and purse lines strung through rings at the bottom of the net draw the seine closed, much like the action of a drawstring purse. The purse rings are then bunched and boomed aboard, and the net is "dried up," the wings pulled aboard with a power block. In some operations, four or five crewmen stand at the stern, restacking the net with the corkline to starboard and leadline to port. Some wetfish fishermen now use a drum seine, rewinding the net on a large reel.
"Wetfish," including squid, comprise more than 50% of California's total catch by weight. In fact, California's squid fishery is the largest in the nation. In 1996, California fishermen caught a record 177 million pounds of pearlescent Loligo opalescens squid, often called market squid. With a dockside, or ex-vessel, value of $33.3 million, market squid were California's most valuable fishery in 1996.