Fishermen are reporting more and more huge catches of Humboldt squid off the coast of Orange County. The creatures used to be seen only in South America, but in the last decade, they’ve periodically shown up further north, including this week.
Humboldt squid can measure up to 6-feet long, weigh up to a 100 pounds, and, “feature probing arms and tooth-lined tentacles, a raptor-like beak and an insatiable craving for flesh,” writes Pete Thomas on his outdoors blog.
Sounds like you would want to stay away, right? Not Captain Brian Crooke and many other Orange County anglers.
“We caught 1,800 of them with three boats in about an hour,” said Crooke, speaking by telephone from his boat off the coast of San Clemente as he prepared for another squid expedition.
Nighttime is the best time for fishing these squid. That’s when they’re closest to the top, feeding on an abundance of krill that lures them from their normal habitat hundreds of feet below. The most important thing to know about jumbo squid fishing: Be prepared to get sprayed.
“The ink gets really messy,” said Crooke. “My crew wears full rain gear head to toe. Sometimes you’re lucky and get sprayed with water, but there’s an opportunity every night for a nice splashing of ink all over your face. The one part of your body that isn’t covered always gets inked.”
Outside Europe, jumbo squid generally aren’t a popular menu item, and in fact, we couldn’t find any Orange County seafood restaurants serving them. Most people prefer calamari, but not Crooke, who says bon appétit: Humboldt squid can be delicious.
“They’re actually very good to eat,” said Crooke. “Some people will take home 20-30. They’ll bake them, steam them, and BBQ them.”
Crooke has done a brisk business this week, bringing fishermen out on jumbo squid trips at Dana Point-based Dana Wharf Sportfishing. So has Thomas Sterner at Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach, which has been taking out 100-to-150 anglers a night.
“The last couple nights have been pretty incredible,” he said. “One of our boats had 600 squid.”
The Red Devil, as they are known in Mexico, have slowly been migrating North. First appearing a week ago near San Diego, Sterner says he’s now hearing about Humboldt squid as far north as Long Beach. His catches have ranged in size from three pounds up to 20 pounds, which is considered small. That’s a good thing, says Sterner.
“They don’t do as much damage to the local fish population when we get the smaller squid in,” said Sterner, adding that the local fish population still hasn’t recovered from the 60-pounders that invaded a few summers back.
“We think that’s either because they scared the fish off and they didn’t want to return or there’s a chance they had a consumption rate on local fish populations because they will eat anything, given the opportunity,” said Sterner.
Like the worst kind of house guest, there’s no predicting how long these creatures will stick around. Some years they stay for days. Other years they stay for months.