So I guess squid are doing really well this year.
It's estimated that around-the-world squid in mass outweighs the human population. . . . Along the coast of California, the squid season has been abundant . . . Certain squid are booming thanks to a slight warming of sea temperatures, in places like Alaska and Siberia . . . There's also been a boom in Humboldt squid along the Pacific coastline ranging from California to Peru.
Argentine fisheries' production of squid this year is at risk after crews found the stock already low outside the country's exclusive economic zone. Low yields of the Illex argentinus variety of squid could spell trouble for this branch of the fishing industry, officials said. . . . The industry is already in trouble over sharp drop in yield over the past two years, FIS said in a report on its Web site.
Of course, my faithful readers already know there are lots of different species of squid. It's no surprise that some would be doing well and others poorly, since we don't know very much about any of them, except that they vary wildly depending on environmental conditions.

In fact, it's really this variability that's a concern for South American squid fisheries. (Why don't we call them squidderies? Can I start doing that? Will it catch on?) From the UPI article linked above:
FIS reports showed that compared with previous years, catches of squid [in Argentina] suffered serious fluctuations, leading to sharp price changes. . . . Fishing in Peru is also in crisis, with crews reporting sharp fluctuations in yields.
Why are squid so variable, and why is this variability so dependent on the environment? One year it's slightly warmer, and one squid species explodes while another disappears. The next year it's a bit cooler and the two species flip-flop. Why don't their populations ever seem to level out?

The answer is actually mentioned (unintentionally) in that first article I linked, the one about "Boom Times for Squid." Extremely observant readers may remember that article; it's just a repost of Santa Loves Calamari, which I commented on before.

However, in my last rant I actually skipped over an important piece of information, the one that answers our question about squid variability. Here it is:
Warmer waters can help squid "balloon" in size because their enzymes work faster when warm. A young giant squid can grow from 2 millimeters to a meter in a single year, the equivalent of a human baby growing to the size of a whale in twelve months.
If you're wondering what those two sentences have to do with each other, good for you! I'm not really sure why they were juxtaposed in the article. But I'm going to talk about both of them, so it's convenient for me.

It's a general rule of the biochemical thumb that all enzymes work faster when warm. Squid don't have a patent on thermophilic enzymes.

Similarly, it's a general rule of metabolic thumb that all organisms grow faster when warm. Squid, humans, and whales alike, along with pretty much any other animal you can think of, follow this pattern. However, they grow faster relative to their own species' growth rate. So, a warm baby whale will only grow faster than a cold baby whale, not faster than a baby squid.

The second sentence up there--the one about squid growth--is actually nothing to do with temperature. It's just a fact that squid (and here I am generalizing to all squid) have very fast growth rates. They're relatively faster when they're warmer, but warm or cold, they're still way faster than humans or whales (or even most fish).

It's not that squid respond to temperature differently than other animals. It's just that they grow so much faster. And that makes them ping-pong when environmental conditions change, because they can't average these changes over time.

Think about it. A baby sperm whale takes a decade or two to grow up. Over that time, temperatures fluctuate. Sometimes it will be colder, sometimes it will be warmer. Many of those fluctuations will cancel each other out.

A baby squid takes a few months to grow up. True, temperatures often fluctuate over such short time spans, but these fluctuations are less likely to cancel each other out. Over the course of its growing-up, a baby squid born in an El Niño year will see very different temperatures than a baby squid born in a La Niña year. Growth and survival will vary accordingly, and be reflected at the population level.

Boom and bust. It's the name of the squid game, and the main reason I'm uncertain about squid sustainability.

P.S. I finished reading China Mieville's Kraken and will totally post a review soon. THERE WAS ORIGAMI! (That should give you some indication of whether the review will be overall positive or negative.)

P.P.S. I love origami.