Jiggin' For Squid

by Michael Calderwood from Brighton, ON

My first parish as an Anglican minister was in Newfoundland & Labrador, in the small outport called Trinity East on the north shore of Trinity Bay. 

My wife, Karen, and I had just moved from Toronto, and I soon realized that we could fit all the residents of Trinity East into one Toronto subway car. 

I lived there in the early nineteen nineties: the time when the folks in Ottawa were making decisions about the future of the fishery. I would sit at kitchen tables in the homes of my parishioners and listen to them talk about their future. I knew in order to do this job well I had to learn about the fishery. And what better way to find out about the fishery, and those who make their living by dory, than to get out on the ocean and see for myself.

It was cold at dawn. I stepped into the boat and waited for the three cups of coffee to take effect. One of my parishioners, Ray, started his Mercury outboard and off we went.

I felt excited about this adventure. We rode for an hour in the boat, and I wondered where we were going, but Ray knew - he was looking for the seagulls which, he said, always knew where the squid were swimming. 

Ray soon stopped the motor as he looked up at the gulls circling above. "Put down the jigs", he said. There were four large spools on gunwales, rolled with hundreds of meters of heavy fishing line. Every 30 centimetres or so, there was a small hook, a jig, which would grab onto any part of the squid's body. It was crude but effective. I let down the line until I was told to stop.

My captain told me to rock the spools back and forth, back and forth, until I felt the weight of the squid on the end of the line.

"Haul her up!", Ray shouted. I could not have been prepared for what I was about to see or hear. Squid, all about the size of my hand, came flying off the jigs into the bottom of the boat, their gills gasping for water.

There were more squid than I had ever seen in my life. 

I could tell by the look on Ray's face that this was a good catch. He looked happy I was proud and honoured to be part of this day.

"Now what?", I asked.

"Well, my son", he said, "you got to separate the males from the females".

"How do we do that?” I asked him. 

“Well,” he told me, “if you pick them and look closely through their tentacles, just below their eyes, you can see the difference".

It sounded reasonable to me. I had taken enough marine biology, as an undergrad to know that, yes, it was possible to tell the difference between a male-and female squid As a minister. I knew that God had created them so. 

What I had forgotten, however, was the sophisticated defense mechanism that squid and other cephalopods (seph-a-lo-pod) had developed over millions of years of evolution. It was sophisticated, though not very precise. 

But when you are a squid swimming through the cold waters of Trinity Bay, when you are a squid trapped in the bottom of a dory, gasping for air, when you are a squid being picked up by an Anglican minister who until very recently lived at Broadview and Gerrard in downtown Toronto… you do not have to be very precise. I picked up a squid and tried to determine its gender.

“You might have to hold it closer,” Ray told me. And that was the last thing I remember hearing. 

The ejection, if not precise, was certainly thorough. The fact that it got into my ears surprised me. 

It was thick, cold and too salty to describe. It splashed over my face, covered my eyes, went further up my nose than I care to remember. It tasted like nothing I had ever tasted before. 

With my ears clogged I could hear only one sound rising above the squishing sound of the squid on the bottom of the boat. It was my captain, my very much amused captain, laughing harder than he had for a long time. My initiation into the community had begun.