It’s Thursday night in Greenport Village and something that could be mistaken for a sea monster is lying on the Railroad Dock behind the East End Seaport Museum.
The crimson beast was pulled, fighting and squealing, from the 45-degree water and laid on the dock, where it eventually turned white and met its demise.
It’s squid season in Greenport Harbor.
For a few weeks in late April and early May, scores of professional and recreational fisherfolk take to the Railroad Dock each night, fishing poles and squid jigs in hand. They’re looking to catch the longfin squid that are headed to the dock to spawn, which they’ll eat raw, sauté, fry or to use as bait.
“Once it starts hitting, it’s like rapid fire,” said Henry Oh of Mattituck, who was introduced to the sport at about age 11 by his father, Kwangwoon.
On this night, Oh, 31, has brought a four-foot-long green light that’s submerged in the water. The lamp is powered by a portable car battery jumpstarter and the glow, which attracts the cephalopods, allows him to catch three over the few hours he spends there. He expects to catch many more as the season heats up.
Though effective, Oh’s setup is far from the most impressive on the dock this night. Others, who have traveled from Flushing and other parts of Queens, have brought gas-powered generators to light their lamps. The event attracts many people, mostly men, of Korean, Japanese, Greek or Italian descent from New York City and beyond.
Many, like Oh and his friend Morgant Fiedler, have been doing it since childhood
“I don’t do it because I love squid or squid fishing. For me, it’s more about family history,” said Fiedler, 33, a Greenport native and an attorney. “I remember doing it as a kid.”
She recalled that her father, Rich, would dive for lost squid jigs and that she and her brother Ricky would sell them back to the fishermen at $3 a pop. The pair made enough money to buy a used five-horsepower fiberglass boat they called The Blind Chicken.
Squid jigging is an activity with a relatively low barrier for entry. Participants hook a barbed squid jig to the end of a fishing pole and bob the line in the water. The squid do not put up much of a fight once their tentacles hook onto the jig.
“It’s pretty wimpy,” Oh says. “You can barely even tell it’s there.”
Although the creature doesn’t have much brawn, it does have one line of defense: its ink sack. It’s almost guaranteed that a squid will spray odorous black ink on the dock once it’s pulled from the water.
They are interesting looking animals, with a large, almost human-looking eye. They also possess a beak, which they use to crush their food. They live about a year and can grow up to 18 inches long, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The atmosphere on the dock is convivial; visitors have been known to bring hibachi grills to cook their catch and share it with those around them. But Greenport Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who owns Alice’s Fish Market and whose husband, Mark, is a commercial fisherman, stressed the importance of etiquette when partaking.
She cautioned guests to take all trash with them when they leave, to stay off any boats parked nearby and to avoid using village electric panels.
“When people come out here, I understand they are coming out for a good time. But you have to be respectful of the people who maintain [Greenport],” she said. “We love this community just as much as they love coming out to it.”