Québec calamari!

A translation by Judith Turcotte

When I conducted my research on the migration of Maine lobster to the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, I learned that there were calamari in the Gulf’s water. I admit that I was surprised by this information. I ignored that there were calamari in the St. Lawrence River. I am a fan of fried calamari and I always thought this product was imported. I was right; it is still imported. The calamari is not fished in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The calamari is a migrant species and is present from the Florida coast to Greenland. The calamari have always been in the river and this recent abundance is the result of the warming of the river’s water. In Canada, the fishing occurs off the Newfoundland coast.

It was not that long ago that Quebecers did not eat snow crab, hesitated to eat lobster and did not know that calamari was edible. The last ones were fished in the Magdalen Islands in the 1950s but the catch was used as “bouette” in the lobster cages, a deformation of the word used by the islanders to describe the English term “bait.” Some islanders still have fishing permits; however, they are not used and even more surprising, the Association des pêcheurs propriétaires des Îles de la Madeleine does not seem to know the names of the people who own these permits. A few years ago, Fisheries and Oceans Canada had evaluated the calamari stocks and had determined that up to 34,000 tons of calamari could be caught in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fishing off Newfoundland is conducted by foreign trawlers coming from Japan and Russia.

The calamari represent a source of nutrition for various fish, birds and marine mammals; however, the calamari are also voracious and feed on capelin, shrimp and juvenile cod. The last two species are struggling in the gulf. The calamari have a life span of 12 to 18 months and for unknown reasons, there are annual fluctuations in their numbers.

The calamari that we eat are imported from China, Taiwan and the United States. The frozen importations of frozen calamari to Canada in 2020 amounted to 63 million dollars. The exporters of calamari are now facing numerous difficulties related to the availability of raw materials and high costs in production and transport. The Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has just authorized calamari fishing but on a small scale. Only the holders of old fishing permits of the Magdalen Islands will be activated. The emission of these permits is intended to evaluate today’s calamari stock. The fishermen who ceased fishing more than fifty years ago are skeptical but a company of the Islands has agreed to process the calamari.

The warming of the gulf water affects aquatic life. The Maine lobsters have migrated to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in search of colder water, however, the gulf’s water is also getting warmer and the lobsters could leave the gulf driven out by the warming water. What will happen to our Québec calamari?

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