by Louis Hammersmith
It was an otherwise typical Halloween afternoon last year, when then 19-year-old Dylan Mayer harvested an 80-pound giant Pacific octopus from the Puget Sound in West Seattle. What the teenager didn’t know, was that his prized catch would result in death threats and eventual changes to hunting laws in the state.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously on Aug. 2 to outlaw recreational octopus hunting at seven Puget Sound beaches. The firestorm started after curious onlookers at Alki Beach, the popular park where the harvest took place, snapped photos of Mayer and his hunting partner pulling the octopus out of the water while still in their scuba gear. Mayer took photos of himself posing with the dead octopus and posted them on his Facebook page as well. Local diver Bob Bailey, said he informed local media and every dive shop in the area after allegedly seeing the two young men punching the octopus, according to MyNorthwest.com. The Northwest Institute of Diving posted photos of the harvest to its Facebook page, which went viral and made Mayer public enemy No. 1 to animal rights activists.
Mayer Did Nothing Illegal
Live and cooked octopus are both considered delicacies in many parts of the world, including the U.S. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took aim at several New York restaurants in 2010 for what it coined the “cruel” chopping up of cephalopod mollusks when they are still conscious, according to The Gothamist. Mayer told KOMO News days after the incident that what he did was perfectly legal and that he catches octopi for the meat. The only statutory requirement when hunting octopi in Washington is that they are harvested by hand, without any sharp objects to stab them, according to the Seattle Times. But animal rights activists argue that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right, and criticized Mayer for harvesting the octopus at a touristy beach.
Why The Outrage
People travel to the Puget Sound from all over the world to visit its beaches and see the wildlife, particularly the giant octopi. Octopus enthusiasts point to the high intelligence of octopi, which they say is higher than that of a dog. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in his book “Octopus and Squid: The Soft Intelligence,” notes that an octopus can teach itself virtually anything, whereas a dog training collar is sometimes necessary to reinforce simple canine commands like “sit” and “shake.” Octopi are kept as pets by some, but are difficult to care for because they are strong and intelligent enough to escape aquariums.
What The New Law Means
Despite the changes, state law still allows licensed fishermen to harvest one octopus a day as long as its outside one of the newly outlawed areas. Craig Burley of the Fish and Wildlife Commission told ABC News that the octopus population in the Puget Sound is healthy and there is no danger of extinction due to hunting. Commissioner Conrad Mahnken said protecting the species is essential to the state’s economic well being.
The rules take effect this fall and outlaw octopus hunting at, among other places, Redondo Beach, Three Tree Point and Deception Pass.