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    A Fading Squid Fishery
    By Danna Staaf | August 29th 2011 08:42 PM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Danna

    Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California...

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    The LA Times has a really wonderful story about a small island off the coast of South Korea and an old woman who makes her living there by selling dried squid.

    I can't be sure what species of sq© Darren Stevensuid, but almost certainly an ommstrephid--the squid family that includes our friend the Humboldt squid. Probably Ommastrephes or Todarodes, based on geography.

    According to the Times,
    A generation ago, most of the island's 10,000 residents worked in the squid industry, either as sellers like Kim or as farmer-fishermen who toiled in the fields each winter and went to sea during summer. Ulleungdo developed a reputation for large, tasty squid that were once exported to the mainland and Japan. The volcanic island, which can be circumnavigated in three hours by car, is also known for its seaside cliffs and picturesque views, which have begun to attract more tourists.
    Linked to an insatiable seafood market, the tiny island of Ulleungdo began to overfish its resources, and squid catches plummeted. As more and more tourists showed up, switching careers from fishing to tourism became a no-brainer.

    What's so interesting to me is that this is precisely the kind of switch that is often touted and even engineered by conservationists around the world. Stop cutting down rainforests and make money by leading tours through them. Stop shooting elephants and work as a safari guide. And so on.

    In some places, where ecological destruction was an act of desperation, not an expression of long-standing cultural tradition, the switch is easy to condone. But in a place like Ulleungdo, where fishing was a near-universal way of life, it's hard not to feel conflicted about the transition.
    For Kim, the influx of visitors may mean more sales in the short run, but she worries about the character of her island home. "If the squid go, this place just won't be the same," she said.
    The island hosts an annual Squid Festival to keep the local squid spirit alive, but I can't help being reminded of the Monterey Squid Festival, which had already faded away by the time I moved there to study squid for graduate school.

    Of course, soft-hearted squid-hugger that I am, I'll always be glad on the inside to see fewer squid being killed and eaten. My favorite part of the LA Times article, in fact, was to find that Kim, our heroine, has developed an affection for these tentacular molluscs as well:
    "They're kind of cute, with their round little bodies and legs that squirt out," she said. "They're not bad at all."