One of the most unique experiences I have gotten to take part in since coming to Manu’a is palolo fishing. Palolo are a type of worm that live in the coral reefs in the South Pacific ocean. Twice a year, at the start of the third quarter of the moon, in October and November, they leave their heads on the ocean floor and spawn their reproductive parts so they can propagate. This results in a swarm of worms coming out of the coral that the Samoan people fish and consume as a delicacy.
As it seems most fishing activities go, the timing for palolo was by no means convenient. I went to sleep early, about 7pm, knowing that a few hours later, I’d need to wake up so that we could be in the ocean when the spawn started. It also involved a great deal of waiting, also typical of my previous fishing experience. My friends and hosts and I left our house at about 10:30pm and crossed the bridge to the neighboring island, where we were told that the palolo fishing is better. After waiting for about an hour sitting by the road, a truck came to take us to Sili, a village now inhabited by only 2 people in one house, and then took a walk along the beach away from any semblance of human inhabitation. Along the way, one man caught and immobilized a 2-foot wide coconut crab, which he left by the beach to pick up on the way back.
Finally, after another 30-40 minutes of waiting at about 1:15am, we entered the water and started fishing for palolo. I got my chance to use a small handmade net, but for the most part, held a large flashlight and the bucket while two of my neighbors worked a wide rectangular net. While most of the party had almost no luck, we managed a reasonable harvest and filled an 8-gallon bucket a few inches with skinny, black and writhing worms. I ate one that night straight out of the ocean, but mostly just tasted salt water. While the swarm seemed pretty impressive to me, and I couldn’t stay in one place without feeling worms slithering by through the current, I’m told this was not a very good harvest at all, and have high hopes that next month could be even more exciting.
After they’re caught, people ship large harvests back to family on Tutu’ila, where the catch is never as good, and consume the worms fried in butter with eggs or on toast. I tasted some with eggs, and believe that if I were more fond of seafood, I would quite enjoy them. They have a very mild seafood flavor, and a texture that is not far from the eggs that they were mixed with. While it was much better than I expected, I think that at least for me, palolo would have to be an acquired taste. Perhaps if next month brings many more, I’ll get the chance to try again!