PORT ANGELES, Wash. – Large Humboldt squid have shown up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca where commercial fishermen say they are stealing their catches. Now, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is giving the fishermen some revenge by allowing them to sell squid they accidentally catch as they troll for salmon.
Until recently, the squid, which can grow to 6 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds, were found in the Pacific from the southern tip of South America to the California coast. Researchers suspect warmer ocean temperatures are allowing the voracious squid to range as far north as British Columbia and parts of Alaska.
Greg Bargmann, Fish and Wildlife marine ecosystem manager, said the state decided last week that commercial fishermen could sell squid they inadvertently catch.
It’s good news to fisherman Gary Willmett, of Neah Bay, who said he has between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of squid he accidentally caught while fishing for salmon on his boat, White Eagle.
He said the big squid are a threat to fish stocks and his livelihood, nabbing salmon right off his hooks while he trolls the strait that separates Washington from Vancouver Island.
In four days of fishing earlier this month, Willmett said he caught two king salmon, 42 silver salmon – and 30 squid. Normally, he would have caught up to 100 salmon.
Kent Baltz, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer in Santa Cruz, Calif., said two NOAA researchers from his office will be in Westport, Wash., this week to study the squid, tagging them with electronic monitors to follow their movements.
Baltz said a “strong hypothesis” for why the squid have moved north is that the ocean water is warmer than usual.
Because of an El Niño weather pattern, the ocean off Washington is between 1 and 2 degrees above normal, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Albrecht, though he noted the waters off Neah Bay at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula have been average this summer at around 55 degrees.
Although Humboldt squid showed up off the Washington coast briefly in the 1930s, they disappeared until 2004, when large numbers were reported seasonally here and in Alaska and British Columbia waters. This year, fishermen are reporting the largest numbers yet.
There are no official estimates of how many squid are here, but Willmett said there are too many to avoid.
Bargmann said he expects the squid will leave the area later this month once the water temperature starts to drop.
“I don’t think it’s a major threat,” he said.
But he said that if the squid keep returning each summer, the state would be concerned about their effect on the fishing industry.
Baltz said no one knows how long the squid will keep coming back. They were rare even off most of the Southern California coast until roughly 10 years ago and have been wreaking havoc all along the West Coast, he said.
“They are pretty opportunistic hunters,” he said.
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