Guam – The first trials seeking to catch giant squid off Aitutaki in the Cook Islands netted a haul of four diamondback squids and a neon flying squid after the first casting of nine fishing lines last Saturday, 27 July.
The squid, weighing from 8 to almost 17 kilograms, offer a potential new source of protein for fishers seeking alternative sources of food and livelihoods in the Pacific.
“We were all very excited by our haul,” says Secretariat of Pacific Community’s master fisherman William Sokimi.
SPC is working with the Cook Islands’ Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) to investigate the potential of a squid fishery around Aitutaki and will also conduct trials further south, around Rarotonga.
[Local Aitutaki fisherman Mark Baxter (left) with a diamondback squid, and William Sokimi (right) from SPC with a neon flying squid.]
Mr Sokimi is training MMR fisheries officers, Richard Story and observer captain, Saiasi Sarau, in the appropriate fishing techniques. If it all works, the fisheries officers will then share their skills with the local fishers. The FV Mary Jane, owned by the Baxter brothers, local Aitutaki fishermen, is being used in the first Cook Island trials.
“So far, it is looking very promising. Even though the weather was very poor with rough seas and strong winds, even in the lee of the island, we had a good catch and we have now established that giant squid can be caught in the Cook Islands,” says Mr Sokimi.
This trial follows a similar trial carried out last year in New Caledonia. Over a total of eight fishing days, vertical drifting lines 500 metres in length were set at depths of 1500 to 2000 metres.
“The results there far exceeded our hopes,” says Mr Sokimi. “No less than 70 squid, amounting to a total weight of 785 kilograms were caught, and it’s looking like it will be a similar story here.”
SPC researchers believe that even if the price paid for giant squid is not high enough to consider exporting it from the Pacific to Japan, it could be very feasible as a new resource for coastal fishers targeting local markets and restaurants.
And William Sokimi is so positive that he’s promoting a book of 53 diamondback squid recipes, developed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the Dominican Fisheries Division.
Two species of commercially exploitable giant squid occur in the Pacific: the diamondback squid (Thysanoteuthis rhombus)—or sei-ika, as it is known in Okinawa, where it is exported to the main islands of Japan to be consumed raw as sashimi or sushi— and the neon flying squid (Ommastrephes bartramii).
However, the diamondback squid needs to be managed carefully. Unlike other squid, they pair up and live as a couple.
“It’s a fragile resource liable to shrink rapidly if overfished,” says Mr Sokimi. “We need to work with local fishers to develop and manage the fishery sustainably.”