A cold water cephalopod mollusc from the south-west
If you happen to be out on a nocturnal sail off the Dorset coast in the next few weeks, you might be lucky enough to see some lights bobbing up and down in the distance. It won’t—or at least is very unlikely to be—some bioluminescent sea creature coming up for air; more likely it will be the squid fishermen out for another night chasing this winter delicacy.
“We catch them at night using the traditional method which involves a bit of kit called a ‘squid jig’,” says Darren from Shellseekers, as the first of this season begin to appear on his stall. “We hang a light over the side of the boat, which attracts the squid. The jigs come in an array of different types, but the ones we use are like a fluorescent ball with loads of little spikes sticking out. You lower the jig under the water and when the squid go to grab the light, they get caught up within the spikes and you pull them up. So essentially you are ‘fishing’ for them.”
While there are other ways of catching squid such as trawling or with drift nets, this traditional way of has its benefits—one of the biggest being that it is a much more sustainable way of catching them.
“You are not scooping up every squid in the area in a net or trawl, and you can release the ones that are too small back into the water,” he explains “It is also a much less aggressive way of catching them. Squid are very delicate and the other methods can damage them easily. Getting them this way means that they suffer a lot less because you take them off the jig gently and place them in containers, which means they are in a better condition when you come to sell them. That is why the squid we sell here is of such high quality.”
A seasonal catch
One thing that might surprise many is the extent to which Dorset squid is a seasonal catch. They are cold water animals so they only start to arrive on the coast as the waters start getting colder, when they come into shallower waters to breed.
“Because the season is dependent on the sea conditions, the start of the season will change a bit from year to year. This year we started seeing them in November, but in another year they might not turn up until nearer to Christmas. By the end of January into February they move on, so it is really quite a short season.”
Dorset squid is not a particular species of squid, “they simply have the name because we have caught them off Dorset”—but it tells you a bit more than that: when you shop at Shellseekers, you know how the squid have been caught, where they have been landed and that they come from a sustainable source.
“They are always very popular,” Darren says with a smile. “One of the great things about our customers here is that they really understand the seasonality of what we do, so they enjoy the squid when they are in season and when it is over, they accept that is has passed for another year and move on to something else.”
Years to come
At the moment there are no specific quotas, but Darren says that one of the nice things is that people are realising we should still be looking to protect them. “Look after them when the numbers are high,” he says with feeling. “That way you avoid future problems and can enjoy this amazing product for years to come.”
To make the most of your fresh seasonal squid, read Borough Market demonstratuon chef Jenny Chandler’s recipe for split pea & lemon purée with chargrilled squid.