Baits, Squids, Tuna and Me



Posted on 18 March 2013  | 
Just minutes after sundown, the generator was started to produce enough juice to light up six large lamps that turned the surrounding area of the boat into a bright spot. We were going to fish for baits and needed the lights to attract our primary targets: squids.

The method to catch squids is simple: a lure (shaped like a small fish made out of plastic) is dragged on the sea surface; squids that swim up to grab the lure are then scooped up. It’s a unique way of catching squid, utilizing the behavior of this species.

As the first two large squids were scooped up, it reaffirmed my earlier thoughts that we were going to have squid for supper. I watched as the fisher stringed the squids together on a nylon string and placed them back in the water to keep them alive.

My heart leaped and rejoiced, expecting to have squid sashimi for dinner. But to my dismay, supper came and went and the squids were still squirming on the water surface hanging on the string. Disappointed, I slowly stuffed myself with rice and chicken stew with some vegetables. Ashamed to ask why we did not have squids, I simply kept quiet and enjoyed the meal.

Watching them start the fishing activity, I soon learned that the tuna were the ones who would be getting those squid sashimi treats instead. On each hook hang 2 to 3 live squids, alongside chopped squids, and a pouch of squid ink that was tied to the dropstone—a piece of rock (1-2 kg) used to pull the hooks with baits down to the right level for feeding tuna, somewhere between 75 to 120 meters below the surface.

On a regular night of bait fishing during the season, as much as 50 kg of squids could be caught by each fisher. About half of these end up being fed to tuna and other odd-looking deep sea creatures below. What remains after each fishing night is kept frozen (when abundant) and landed or dried under the sun for personal consumption.

As a food advocate, I can’t help but think of how much squids or baitfish are wasted on this practice called chumming. Chumming is a fishing technique that releases a lot of baits to create frenzy feeding, to lure fish to the baited hook. Those tuna, together with many other deep sea creatures, must be really getting fat from enjoying a daily food shower from the surface. No need to expend energy looking for food.

This baitfish wastage does not make good economic sense either. To do a simple calculation: if 20 kg are used per fisher, then for a crew of 5, the baitfish volume used per night would be 100 kg. Multiply this with about 240 annual fishing days and you get 24 tons of baitfish used per boat, per year!

If we assume that a third of these are squids, then the cost of 8 tons of squid used as bait annually by each boat would amount to Php560,000 Philippine pesos ($13,800 US dollars), computed at the current buying price of Php70 (US$1.728) per kg.

Several thoughts occupied me during this trip: tunas getting the squid, the wasted baitfish, and me deprived of the first bite of those juicy squids. I wondered why fishers have not done their math and still continue to target tunas when squids are there for the taking (watch out for my next blog entry on this).

These thoughts were playing in my head over and over again so much so that when I finally had tuna sashimi a week later, somehow, I could really tell that the tuna I had tasted like squid.

Posted by Jose Ingles (Jingles)
Jingles and Squid
© Jose Ingles Enlarge

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