Bowermaster’s Adventures: Boom Times for Squid

Typically at this time of year a certain breed of shopper purposefully wanders the fish stalls of their favorite grocer taking stock of the piles of fresh oysters carefully arranged on crushed ice or to pick up and judge the heft in their hands of tightly packed tins of caviar, which sell for anywhere from $50 to $2,000.

They will do so with some reluctance this year though. Oysters from the Gulf are still suspect due to all the fresh water that cycled through them during diversionary efforts to keep the oily waters at bay this past summer. And caviar, whether from the Caspian Sea or the coast of Alaska, whether farmed or wild, is coming with new warnings based on the fact the sturgeon population is feeling more pressure from overfishing.

Maybe this just might be the year to lay off those two favored treats and replace them with something slightly less traditional: Squid.

I know, a big bowl of calamari hardly compares to one of caviar… but, man, there’s a lot of squid out there these days. I’m sure some of those very popular sustainable fish chefs have already dreamed up some special calamari entrée just for the season.

How much squid is out there? It’s estimated that around-the-world squid in mass outweighs the human population. And that’s with sperm whales alone munching down more than 100 million tons of squid each year.

Along the coast of California, the squid season has been so abundant the state Department of Fish and Game reports its annual limit of 118,000 tons has already been taken and the squid season is now closed until March 31. Marine biologists credit a rush of colder-than-normal water for the banner year; usually February is prime time.
At the same time, certain squid are booming thanks to a slight warming of sea temperatures, in places like Alaska and Siberia. Many squid, octopuses and other sucker-bearing members of the cephalopod family don’t appear to be too troubled by the minor increase. In fact, when it’s a little warmer, some thrive. The populations are thought to be exploding because of the overfishing of other fish that used to dine on young squid. Plus, as the fishing industry captures more and more of the animals’ predators, such as tuna, cephalopods are seeing their numbers expand.

Warmer waters can help squid “balloon” in size because their enzymes work faster when warm. A young giant squid can grow from 2 millimeters to a meter in a single year, the equivalent of a human baby growing to the size of a whale in twelve months.

There’s also been a boom in Humboldt squid along the Pacific coastline ranging from California to Peru. The big tentacled variety can grow more than seven feet long and weigh more than one hundred pounds. A feisty fish, once on the line, the big squids can be slightly dangerous to haul into your boat. They have a nasty, pecking beak, like to spray black ink and have the ability to expel up to two gallons of water into the faces of unexpecting fishermen (“like a giant squirt gun”).

A downside to the boom in giant squid is that they also have giant appetites, which means they are making a big hit on salmon, for example, thus reducing the amount of the pink fleshy fish for human tables.

The giant squid are also proving to be a menace to divers, being both aggressive and carnivorous, a mean combo when the tentacles of one of the rust-colored, six-foot long creatures latches onto your air tank, or leg.[

[Image via wikimedia commons]

Bowermaster’s Adventures — Welcome to squid city!

For the past couple nights I’ve dreamed about being attacked by giant calamari; not the fried variety, but the long, gelatinous species, which wrap me up in big squid rings and push me into the sea. Which I’m sure has everything to do with spending the day in Hakodate, on the big island of Hokkaido, Japan’s squid capital.

The streets leading to the morning market are heavy with restaurants, each featuring an illustration of a squid on its awning, billboard or even in neon. At open-air shops, tanks of still swimming squid are surrounded by trays of squid on ice, squid wrapped tight in plastic, dried squid, hammered squid, all cut, sliced and diced. Souvenir shops feature plastic squids, squid pens, even drinking cups made from … squid. You won’t be surprised that squid have been a staple here for thousands of years.

(The biggest squid ever caught? Twenty-four feet long. The largest invertebrate on the planet, they are thought to grow to as long as sixty feet but because they live at such great depths have never been studied in the wild.)

My question for these shopkeepers and restaurant owners, of course, is: Are they at risk of taking too many squid from the sea? Long thought beyond risk of being over fished – they don’t live long anyway, are a very prolific species and fluctuate naturally – the reason they seem to be safe will surprise you.

Normally at home along the coast from Mexico to Chile they are deep-sea creatures, living at depths of 3,000 to 5,000 feet they’re increasingly being found in the colder waters off California, Canada and Alaska. Jumbo squid, six to eight feet long, are booming in areas where they have not previously boomed. The reason for the boom takes us back to Japan, especially the big market at Tuskiji in Tokyo where we were a few days before. Guess what is the main predator of squid? Blue fin tuna. Which are now being badly over fished and sold by the thousands a day in Japan’s markets.

Lots of fingers point to Japan as the greatest threat to the depletion of fish around the world. The Japanese are the world’s biggest consumer of fish; Tuskiji is like an extraordinary mortuary for global sea life. Not only do the Japanese pose a problem for other countries’ fish stocks, but also threaten the world’s fish stocks as a whole. Each day, tens of thousands of tons of marine life, clawed from rocks and scooped from oceans by factory ships working 24 hours a day, are auctioned in the early hours. Japan’s taste for seafood only appears limited by price and availability. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates Japan devours 30 percent of the world’s fresh fish, close to 170 pounds a year for each man, woman and child. Australians, by comparison, manage just 40 pounds.

Some conservationists and marine scientists are increasingly raising questions about how long Japan’s appetite can be accepted as an unquestioned cultural imperative. The constant plundering of the ocean is devastating fish stocks and destroying ecosystems. While we ponder that, there remains one good thing in the sea: There are plenty of squid … so get out the calamari recipes.

Giant squid invade waters off San Diego

It sounds like the plot of campy 1970’s horror flick: aggressive giant squid sporting razor-sharp beaks and tentacles with teeth start showing up in the waters off the coast, attacking divers and grabbing their masks and hoses. But this is a real-life version of “It Came from the Deep”, and it’s happening in the waters near San Diego.

The creatures are called Humboldt squid, (though they’re also referred to as “red devils” for their color and hostile behavior) and can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. They’re carnivorous and known for being particularly aggressive, especially when feeding. Scientists say they’ll even cannibalize other squid during a feeding frenzy. Though they’re native to Mexico, the squid have shown up in smaller numbers all along the west coast of the US. The last time such a large invasion occurred was in 2002, when 12 tons of dead squid eventually washed ashore near San Diego.

The squid generally stay a few hundred feet below the surface, but divers have reported seeing them at depths of 60-80 feet. Some divers have come across them without incident, but others have been bumped, pushed and pulled by antagonistic squid. Many divers are just choosing to steer clear of the squid, staying out of the water until the “carnivorous calamari” move on. Swimmers most likely won’t run into any of the squid, except for the few that wash up on the beach.

[via ABC News]

Poor Little Giant Squid

It turns out the giant squid is not a creature out of science fiction. The Japanese have captured it on film, Fox News reports. The creature was 24 feet long! Next time I am scuba diving off Ogasawara Islands (south of Tokyo), I’ll be on the lookout for the world’s largest invertebrates!

The sad part is that the squid actually died while being captured. Now, you can watch for it in your neighborhood sushi joint.