Thursday, March 27, 2008
Ode to Box of Squid By Hugh
“Calamari in my hand— Fancy name bestowed by man. Kids will eat it with a bib— To a seal it’s just a squid.”
I wrote the above on the food prep room dry erase board during a giddy morning when, after opening up a box of squid to prepare for the marine mammals, I noticed that the word “Calamari” was written on top of the box. For some odd reason it struck me as funny that the same food that our seals and otters were eating every day was being used by restaurants to prepare a meal for human customers who were going to pay a premium price for the dish.
Calamari is one of those classy delicacies served at finer restaurants. In its breaded human consumption form it is hard to recognize that the meal set in front of you is actually Loligo opalescens— also known as Market Squid. This same specie is used by the mammalogists at the Aquarium of the Pacific to feed the seals, sea lions and sea otters in the exhibits. However there is more to this critter that goes beyond its fancy restaurant moniker. The story of Loligo opalescens in our local water is quite impressive. So impressive in fact that Jacque Cousteau once devoted an entire television documentary show on this little squid. The following is the story behind the squid sitting on your restaurant plate.
A couple months ago the night seas of the San Pedro Channel were lit up as bright as Las Vegas as dozens of fishing boats equipped with strong spot lights could been seen close to shore setting their nets. What brought them to the channel was the spawning of millions of market squid. “Panning for Sea Gold” is what commercial fishermen call the harvest of Loligo opalescens in the waters off the coast of Southern California. Indeed tens of thousands of dollars can be made in a single night by a fishing boat during a squid run. The bright lights of the boats lured the squid to the surface where they could be netted.
The market squid grows to about eleven inches long (just the right bite-size for a hungry seal or sea lion). Its eight arms are about half the length of its mantle and its two tentacles are about two thirds the length of the mantle. The coloration of the squid can change from an almond white to a reddish brown. A parrot-beaked predator whose propulsion comes from a siphon under its neck, it is the most abundant squid in California waters. Its near shore breeding sadly is bittersweet for the squid. Although the fertilizing, laying and attaching of the female’s egg casting to the ocean floor insures the continuance of the species, the adults themselves will die soon afterwards.
Loligo opalescens is an important commercial catch that is exported around the world. It is the frozen squid most likely found in supermarkets. It is also an important link in the marine food chain. During the recent squid runs off the Palos Verdes Peninsula I witnessed sea lions, sea birds and dolphins joining in a night orgy of feeding as hundreds of thousands of squid were drawn to the bright lights of commercial fishing boats gathered less than a mile off Point Vicente. As full nets of squid were pulled in, big bull California sea lions leaped inside the cradle of the nets to gorge themselves on the concentration of squid within, leaping out just as the nets drew close to the boats. Common, Rissos and Bottlenose dolphins stayed in the periphery of the lighted area picking off the squid at the edges while hundreds of Western gulls swooped down to pick off what the marine mammals and fishermen missed. All this frenzied activity for the little squid known by the classy name of Calamari.
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