August 1st our neighbors south of the border opened their annual octopus season. Much of the fishing effort in the southern Gulf of Mexico revolves around this annual 4.5 month derby for the 8-legged mollusk. The “pulpeada,” as the season is affectionately called by Mexican fishermen, is highly anticipated and promises wealth and fortune to fishermen, boat owners, processors, exporters, and international traders. Indeed, this fishery has brought so much success to the industry in past years that the anticipation has mounted to a feverish pitch. It’s almost like a gold rush for Mexican fishermen…
Last year a bumper crop of over 50 million pounds were produced, beating out the already impressive totals of 2013. Word on the street anticipates that the prices this year will open pretty low due to weak, international demand, but in spite of this, European buyers have already taken up residence in the Yucatan and the fishermen know they aren’t there for vacation…they are there to buy!
Octopus (“pulpo” in Spanish), has long been a favorite part of the Mediterranean diet, and buyers from Greece, Italy, France, and Spain prefer the high quality, hand-caught octopus of the Yucatan. Companies from Spain have been the leading buyers in recent years. Many of the Spanish companies import octopus, further process it, and then in addition to their national consumption, they successfully export it to many other countries, including the USA. The next time you are in the supermarket, checkout the canned octopus…chances are it’ll be product of Spain!
Yucatecan production consists of two species: “pulpo maya” and “pulpo vulgaris.” The Vulgaris species is the same species native to the Mediterranean but both are similar and sold almost interchangeably. Remarkably all of this octopus is caught by hand. The fishermen embark in small skiffs from the beach or from a larger vessel that transports them farther off-shore and the skiffs drift with the current all day with several lines in the water. Each of those lines has a small weight with a small crab attached at the end that lightly drags across the ocean floor. Normally, octopus burrow up in the sand, and when they hear or feel the small weight passing nearby, they come out and begin to feast on the crab. The fishermen will notice the tautness of the line and slowly pull the unsuspecting octopus to the surface. Catching the product live has helped ensure Mexico’s reputation for high quality octopus.
Another fascinating part of this fishery includes its natural, self-sustainability. Many parts of the world fish octopus with a long string of small traps or pots, however, not in Mexico, where hand-caught artisanal fishing rules! This is significant because octopus season in Mexico occurs during the natural spawning season, and females do not eat while they are spawning. The result is a self-sustaining fishery where the reproducing females simply do not eat the bait!
Each year, Beacon Fisheries watches anxiously to see how the octopus fishery will affect the Yucatan grouper and snapper markets. Depending upon how the octopus fishing goes largely determines how much grouper and snapper we will be able to source from the region. Normally it takes a few weeks into August until we see a good barometer. In the meantime, if you have never tried octopus, it may be time to give this Mediterranean delicacy a try. More and more menus seem to be featuring it, and like many seafoods, octopus delivers a very tasty meal if prepared properly, (and is quite tough to chew if prepared incorrectly!)
Beacon has consistently stocked several sizes of octopus for a while now, and this year we are looking to add to our offerings with some tumbled products and different pack sizes. If you are interested in samples or anything special, please speak with your account rep and it will be a pleasure to produce exactly what you need. Remember, if you are buying Spanish product you may actually be purchasing Mexican product, processed in Spain. If that’s the case, let us know and perhaps we can help you find a more direct connection to the source, and hopefully better value as well!
Keep it wild!