Have you noticed bright lights at sea when you look toward the Channel Islands at night? It is our intrepid squid fleet making its living. Unfortunately for them, a major portion of their living comes during the cold winter months.
The image those lights create appears wild and exciting and maybe even romantic. The truth, however, is quite different. Those folks work cold. Those folks work wet. Those folks work long and hard. Sometimes they fill the boat and make good money. Sometimes they don’t even meet expenses.
The community sure does depend on those crews. After all, they provide the bait we buy at the tackle shops. They provide the calamari (the name for squid when it is for human consumption) we take home. They provide our tourists, and locals alike, with something interesting to watch, when they unload their catch. They provide our waterfront department with funds for the coffers, and our local merchants with revenue because squidders shop like everyone else.
They provide a service at another level, out at sea. Fisherfolk are pleased to see the squid fleet at work, because that marks an area where squid are concentrated.
Where squid concentrate, predator fish congregate. It is feasible to drift or anchor near the fleet (without getting in their way) and jig up some live squid to use for bait. Sometimes we are able to trade or beg or buy a small amount of live or fresh dead squid from a squid seiner or a light boat.
One salty old captain told me he had surefire barter material. He had an oven on his boat, and he swears by his tattoo that there isn’t a squid boat crew out there who won’t trade a couple buckets of fresh squid for a hot apple pie on a cold wet morning at sea.
It helps to understand the process. A light boat (equipped with powerful downward-mounted lights) attracts the squid during the night. Then a seiner boat sets a net around the gathered squid, the light boat moves out, and the squid are hauled.
It isn’t always nearly that simple, but that’s the short version. Then there is the long slow trek back to harbor. Things can go wrong en route, as is evidenced by the wreck of a squid boat, the Miss Julie, sitting in 65 feet of water about a half-mile from the harbor entrance. I doff my well-worn hat to our intrepid squid fleet!