Fishermen Eye Return of Spring’s Savior Squid
The squid are coming. When that happens is anybody’s guess, but most likely the cephalopod will arrive over the next month. Once here, they usually stay six weeks before retreating offshore for the summer.
At least, that is the best guess of Greg Vespe, president of the Aquidneck Island Striper Team, which is a collection of anglers from across Rhode Island who meet monthly on Aquidneck Island.
“The squid typically stay for at least one full moon cycle, which allows them to spawn in the shallow eel grass beds in Narragansett Bay,” he said. “While in the bay, they have become increasingly popular with fishermen who like to target them as a food source [calamari is the state’s official appetizer] and as bait for the coming fishing season.”
Usually, local anglers target squid from shore bulkheads, piers and boats. “Squid fishing does not need to be sophisticated, but does require a few basics,” Vespe said. “You need a medium light fishing pole, most often used in freshwater, a light source of some kind to help attract the squid and a few squid jigs of varying colors to catch them.”
Squid jigs resemble shrimp. Although they lack hooks, they have tines to entrap the tentacles. Squid are usually caught at night. “But you can squid in the daylight when the bite is good,” Vespe said. “It’s best to bring old clothes or a raincoat, as the squid will squirt ink everywhere in an attempt to escape.”
As with octopus, squid are terrific at camouflage and changing colors. “Once caught, they will often cycle through their colors in an attempt to scare off the fishermen. This display is often fascinating and something that must be seen to appreciate,” Vespe said. “The suction cups on a squid also have a very small, sharp hook claw in the center of each cup that won’t hurt humans but adds to their grip. [And] be careful. Squid do not have teeth, but they have a beak in the center of the 10 tentacles, and that beak, if given a chance, is capable of a pretty painful bite.”
Squid in Narragansett Bay average 10 to 20 inches in length. They have been plentiful over the past two fishing seasons. The Providence Business News recently reported that last summer commercial fishermen hauled in about 14 million pounds of squid, with Rhode Island fishermen landing 50 percent of that number.
“[I have] never seen anything like it. The squid just kept coming,” said Point Judith Captain Jeff Wise.
Commercial anglers, who are depending more heavily on squid as other species dwindle, are warily eyeing competition and new state DEM regulatory quotas on catch limits, although early indications are that DEM will keep quotas at about the same level as 2016 for most local game fish.
“The population seems healthy at this point, although both commercial pressure from the dragger fleet, as well as increased recreational fishing pressure, may be beginning to have an effect,” Vespe said. “The overall run strength each spring varies. There are currently no regulations related to minimum size or total catch for recreational fishermen, but you do need a saltwater license to fish for them, which you can get online or at some of the local shops.”
A saltwater license is required for squid fishermen over 16 years old. Locally, licenses can be purchased at West Marine, 379 W Main Rd., Middletown, 401- 841-9880; Bristol Bait & Tackle, 367 Metacom Ave., Bristol, 401- 545-5470; Lucky Bait and Tackle, 289 Market St., Warren, 401-247- 2223; or online at ri.gov/DEM/ saltwater. For more information, call DEM's Marine Fisheries Program at 401-423-1923.
The cost of a yearly RI license is $7 for Rhode Island residents, and $10 for non-residents. There is no fee for RI residents who are over the age of 65, younger than 16, or active military personnel stationed in Rhode Island.