FISH FILES with Dr Julian Pepperell: Squid

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Although a squid isn’t technically a fish, it’s still a very welcome part of the recreational catch in many parts of Australia, writes Dr Julian Pepperell (Illustration: Bernard Yau)

FISH FILES with Dr Julian Pepperell: Squid
FISH FILES with Dr Julian Pepperell: Squid
To many anglers, a squid is a squid is a squid. But there are many species of squid in Australian waters, ranging from the delightfully cute pygmy squid, with a maximum size of just 2cm, to the aptly-named colossal squid, measuring over 10m and weighing more than 500kg (not to mention two other favourites of mine — the striped pyjama squid and the southern dumpling squid). And, taking the opportunity here to clear up some misconceptions, a calamari is definitely a squid, but not all squid are calamari. On the other hand, cuttlefish, while closely related to squid, are not squid. I hope that’s all clear.


One of the more important species of squid is the red arrow squid (Nototodarus gouldii). Its long, slender body and triangular fins at the "pointy end" do indeed resemble an arrow. Like all squids, it has 10 arms, or tentacles, two of which are much longer than the others. These are armed with large suckers and are used to whip out and seize prey.


The life cycles of squid and their relatives are intriguing and, in some ways, almost alien. The male reproductive organ is actually one of its tentacles, which it inserts into the mantle cavity of the female where it deposits a packet of sperm, called a spermatophore. In the case of some species, the whole tentacle is left inside the female, where it remains alive and continues to move as if it were a living organism. After mating once, and only once, all male squid (and octopuses and cuttlefish) then die, as do the females once they have laid their eggs. Egg masses of arrow squid have been found in New Zealand, where the eggs are embedded in spheres of jelly up to 2m in diameter. It is thought that trawling may be a major cause of damage to these eggs.

Baby arrow squid look very different to the adults. Known as Rhynchoteuthion ("nose-squid") larvae, they lack feeding tentacles and their arms are fused into a single tube rimmed by suckers. Odd things, squid…


Arrow squid grow to a reasonably large size of about 50cm. As is the case with most members of the group, females grow to a larger size than males. Their rate of growth rate is very rapid — as much as 4.5cm per month. As indicated, all of the cephalopods, including squids, have remarkably short lifespans, with most living for just one or two years. It’s thought that very short lifespans might also apply to giant and colossal squids, in which case, their rate of growth must be nothing short of astonishing (or terrifying).


Catching squid is one of the great
joys of fishing, but it’s quite an art in its own right. Developed by the Japanese for commercial use, squid jigs are beautiful in their design and deadly in their effect. With a couple of these in the tackle box, a feed of squid is almost guaranteed.

For many lovers of seafood, squid and other cephalopods rate very highly. Simple cooking techniques are often the best when it comes to seafood, and this is especially the case with squid.

Salt and pepper squid is now a big favourite. Slice cleaned squid tubes into strips, rather than rings. Shake in a plastic bag containing rice flour, some ground Szechuan and black peppercorns, Chinese five-spice powder, sea salt and chilli flakes. Drop into hot peanut oil for no more than a minute, drain, sprinkle with lemon juice or dip into a mixture of light soy sauce and lime juice. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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