CAPTION: MMR officer Saiasi Sarua with a diamond back squid.
The first trials seeking to catch giant squid off Aitutaki in Cook Islands netted a haul of four diamondback squids and a neon flying squid after the first nine fishing lines were cast last Saturday (27 July 2013).
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 (SPC) 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.
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 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 m in length were set at depths of 1500 to 2000 m.
‘The results there far exceeded our hopes,’ says Mr Sokimi. ‘No less than 70 squid, amounting to a total weight of 785 kg 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 viable 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 Fisheries Division of Dominica.
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.