SITKA - Sitka fishermen are using snagging hooks to try their luck on what many longtime harbor users say they've never witnessed before - catching California market squid off the dock.
Contrary to what some harbor users have suggested, however, the squid are not new to the Sitka area, said fisheries biologist Eric Coonradt. But he's never heard of their being seen or caught in the harbor.
"It's definitely something unusual," he said.
Small numbers of anglers have been lining up each night along the main float of New Thomsen Harbor to scope out the tentacled creatures hovering about 15 feet below the surface of the water.
Last week, Coonradt used a squid jig to catch dozens of the white, 10-inch-long squid.
"They were a blast to catch," he said.
An indication of how unusual it is to find them in large quantities in Alaska waters is the fact that squid are not listed among species for which a sport or commercial license is required for harvest.
Ryan Kauffman, who keeps a boat in New Thomsen, said he first noticed the squid several weeks ago.
"When I first noticed them I thought they were schools of herring, until I noticed how they propelled themselves," Kauffman told The Daily Sentinel in Sitka.
"I've noticed them mostly under the first few floats," he added. "You can see them in the daytime but they're more visible at night."
The squid have a range from Southeast Alaska to Baja California, with the largest concentrations being in California, according to a study from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Oregon and California have commercial harvest seasons for the squid, which are delicacies in Asia, Europe and the United States. Coonradt said he is unaware of any regulations on catching the squid in Alaska.
According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife report, California market squid live most of the year in deeper offshore waters, but form large schools and go near shore to mate and spawn in late spring and early summer.
Sitka Harbormaster Ray Majeski said he has not seen the squid for himself, but has heard a number of accounts of people catching them in the harbor. He said he's never heard of anyone catching squid from the dock in his 19 years in Sitka.
"It's neat, just as long as they're not being followed by great white sharks," Majeski said.