By Bethany Bray
---- — Fishermen and boaters of Cape Ann and other parts of the North Shore are seeing a marked increase in long fin squid, a species normally more common south of Cape Cod.
It’s the second summer of a squid population explosion, from the Cape to Southern Maine, said Michael Armstrong, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries’ Gloucester field station.
“We’ve always had them (long fin squid), but in less numbers,” said Armstrong. “Their abundance is through the roof ... It’s even more pronounced this year.”
Armstrong said the word “boom” would be an accurate description, with long fin squid numbers increasing tenfold, at least.
The inky invertebrates are so plentiful that it’s become popular to catch them, both to eat and to use a bait. The increase in squid fishing has caused friction recently at some North Shore docks — between authorities, boaters and other fishermen.
Earlier this summer, Marblehead town officials banned fishing from town-owned docks and floats, after overcrowding by squid anglers became a problem.
Salem Harbormaster Bill McHugh said his team patrols the waters near the city’s power plant every night, to remind squid fisherman they must stay at least 100 feet away from the plant. Squid fishing is also popular on the Salem Willows pier and off the rocks near Fort Pickering on Winter Island, he said.
“Usually the squid fishermen work at night. They use bright lights so we do get (complaint) calls,” McHugh said. “We go over (to the power plant) nightly to remind them to stay out of the restricted area ... We’ve had a couple of issues in the Salem Willows with lights, but nothing major.”
“(The squid fishermen) are mostly respectful and comply right away,” he said.
The squid pose no hazard to boaters, McHugh said, but they can make an inky mess.
“They’re easy to catch, (and) will hit anything silvery,” Armstrong said. “You just drop a shiny hook down and bang, you got that thing wrapped around your hook. You can catch three or four at a time if you have multiple hooks.”
The squid boom will wane when temperatures start dropping — probably in the next couple of weeks, Armstrong said. The invertebrates move to deeper water as the weather cools.
“From what we’ve observed, the (squid’s) peak was two or three weeks ago,” said McHugh.
Long fin squid are one foot to 15 inches long, including the tentacles, and can grow up to 18 inches, Armstrong said. People often say the invertebrates look like a mop head when they wash onshore.
The squid live about one year and “grow like crazy,” he said, eating small fish, such as herring.
“They are massive predators,” he said. “They eat a lot.”
On the other hand, the squid are a food source for larger fish, including tuna, striped bass and bluefish. It’s too early to say if the increase in squid is affecting native species, said Armstrong.
“We look at (the squid boom) as neither good nor bad, but different,” he said.
While Armstrong said he’s seen long fin squid in this area for his entire life, the species was more common to waters south of Cape Cod in years past.
The species is fished commercially — boats catch them by trolling — in New Jersey, Delaware and Nantucket Sound, he said.
The reason they’ve come north? Global warming, and the change in currents and temperatures, Armstrong said.
“The ocean’s changing, right off our shores,” he said. “... Water temperatures, there’s no question, they’re rising. Eventually it will come up to the point where they (the squid) are resident up here. We’re seeing more southern species (including fish) come up here all the time.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.