Influx of squid delights Martha’s Vineyard

A squid pulled out of the water will pulse water and quickly change color.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

A squid pulled out of the water will pulse water and quickly change color.

The talk of the town in Edgartown last week was squid — an invasion of squid and squidders. Scores of fishermen young and old, men and women, lined harbor docks nightly to jig for squid. On Memorial Wharf, a perennial squid hot spot, the calamari and bait fishermen stood shoulder to shoulder well into the night.

The appearance of squid in harbor waters at night is not unusual. That there were so many squid and that they were so easily caught, one after another, in the harbor and along State Beach, is unusual. That is not always the case.

Squid jigs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What they have in common are inverted sharp wire tines at the base. When a squid grabs a jig, the fisherman, if he is quick and alert, gives a quick tug and catches the tentacles on the tines.

Pulled from the water, the squid will move through a series of pulsating color changes — white, red, brown — and squirt water and ink.

Practiced squid fishermen dress for the occasion. Many an unsuspecting Memorial Wharf passerby has learned the hard way that it is best not to get too close to a freshly caught squid.

So, what is this abundance all about? For some answers The Times got in touch with Roger T. Hanlon, senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University.

Professor Hanlon said the squid are coming up to the beach at night to catch fish and shrimp that are near shore.

“In general, squids school during the day near the bottom, then they disperse and feed all night. The squids have just migrated in from offshore canyons, where they overwinter in water that is about 10 degrees Centigrade … This puts them at about 800-900 feet most of the time. They migrate inshore and arrive generally in Nantucket Sound by late April or the first week of May. They are actively spawning now and laying mops of egg capsules on the seafloor in relatively shallow water throughout Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds.

“It is hard to say why they are more abundant in your locale this year. Squids are highly mobile and they can pursue schools of bait fish over many kilometers,” he added.

Professor Hanlon has posted a beautiful video of “long-finned swimming squid” on YouTube.