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Danna StaafRSS Feed of this column.

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, Santa Barbara, followed by a PhD dissertation at... Read More »

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Peru is at the cutting edge, the forefront--nay, Peru is a veritable trendsetter, trailblazer, and spearheader--because Peru, alone in the world, has decided to set a quota for Humboldt squid.

Before you go off in a huff about how ridiculous I'm being*, let me explain why this is kind of a big deal. First, the Humboldt squid fishery is the biggest squid--the biggest invertebrate--fishery in the world. Second, no single country (or group of countries, for that matter) has ever set a quota for Humboldt squid before. That means fishermen have, by and large, been free to catch as many as they can.
I spend quite a lot of time here at Squid A Day blathering about one fishery or another, and I ought to remember that the word "fishery" isn't exactly common parlance. It's not jargon in the same way as "chromatophore" or, Lord help us, "mesopelagic." Still, it doesn't have an intuitive meaning to a lot of folks.

So when I wrote a short essay for the Squids4Kids program about squid fisheries, I opened with a discussion of just what a fishery is, before going on to talk about squid.
Most of the time, fishermen fish for one particular creature--be it tuna, sardines, or shrimp. Unfortunately, species tend to exist in a commingled muddle called ecology, and it's often difficult to separate them with fishing gear.

On the east coast of the US, longfin squid are caught with trawl nets. When dragged through the water, trawl nets also collects things which are not squid, called bycatch. And although the population of longfin squid seems to be reasonably healthy, some of these bycatch species are not doing so well.
It seems that certain great ideas have Times. Like, whoever's alive at that time, it doesn't matter--they're going to discover electricity, because the idea's in the ether. Or whatever.

So as it turns out, 2009 was the Time of finding neurotoxins in stranded Humboldt squid. I mean, obviously, right? Or, um, maybe not. 

Let me explain: in 2009, a bunch of Humboldt squid stranded on beaches up and down the Pacific coast of North America. And two entirely independent groups of people had the same brilliant idea of taking samples from these stranded squid and looking for neurotoxins.
Have you heard of biobricks? They're the answer--or at least an answer--to the accusation made here at Science 2.0 and elsewhere that:
A long time ago, in an ocean far, far away . . .



I'm sorry, I couldn't resist! I just couldn't resist. But of course it's not really true. Argentina and the British-owned Falkland Islands have been fighting over their squid resources since "a long time ago", but this latest news is hot off the press. And the ocean may feel "far, far away" to those of us in the northern hemisphere, but it's very close to home for all the squid fishermen in the Southern Ocean, and the civilians who depend on the economies they support.