Grouper quotations in recent weeks have prompted more salty language than normal, even for the fish business! So what is behind the sky-high pricing? While supply and demand are functions of many impossible to predict metrics from the weather to vacationing trends, the biggest culprit recently has been octopus production in the Yucatan of Mexico. Our 8-legged mollusk friend is worth big money these days in Europe and elsewhere due to a global supply shortage.
The Yucatan, a key grouper and snapper production zone, enjoys a short octopus season from August through mid-December. Fishermen are reporting catch rates roughly 3-4 times that of grouper for the same fishing effort, and frequently reaching 10,000lbs of octopus per vessel for a full 2 week trip. Boat owners are also enjoying dock prices at record levels of nearly $3.00/lb prior to processing, bringing an intense frenzy of fishing activity.
Octopus fishing in the Yucatan is a fascinating process often resulting in over 40 million pounds caught entirely by hand in just over 4 months. Most of the production is accomplished by 50-60 foot vessels many of which keep busy fishing for grouper the rest of the year. These vessels which would normally employ a crew of 4-5 take a dozen sailors or more when targeting octopus. Each of these fishermen is set to drift in a tiny skiff all day catching octopus from two bamboo poles. These poles drag 4-5 lines that drop to the bottom with a small crab as bait. There is not even a hook, just the crab! When the unlucky mollusk goes for a quick meal, the fishermen will notice slight tension on the line and then carefully haul in the live unsuspecting octopus.
With several hundred vessels targeting octopus right now crewmen have come from near and far to get a piece of the action. Abandoning their normal occupation, which often is fishing for grouper and snapper. One of the most interesting parts of this octopus fishery is the fact that egg bearing females fast and will not eat. This gives natural sustainability to the species ensuring the eggs can mature, hatch, and maintain the whole system!