The owner of a SLO County fish market bought a 70-pound octopus — but not to sell it

Fred the 70-pound octopus was caught by a Morro Bay fisherman but released back into the ocean by Giovanni DeGarimore.
Fred the 70-pound octopus was caught by a Morro Bay fisherman but released back into the ocean by Giovanni DeGarimore.

It's a good thing octopuses have so many tentacles — Fred is going to need them to count his blessings.

That's the name given to the lucky 70-pound cephalopod who was spared a fate on the chopping block by Morro Bay's Giovanni DeGarimore, owner of Giovanni's Fish Market.

DeGarimore's livelihood depends on selling seafood, not releasing it, but the businessman said he's had a change of heart about the noble octopus.

"It's just been a culmination of events through the last 10 years," he said.

That includes a flood of new research into the intelligence of the octopus — they are problem solvers, they love to play and, of course, they are master escape artists.

It was that intelligence, perhaps more than anything else, that led DeGarimore to draw a line at selling or consuming octopus.

While scuba diving in Fiji, he came across a playful octopus.

"Essentially, we played a game of hide and seek for 15 minutes under the ocean," he said.

So when his dock manager called him Monday to say a local crab fisherman was selling a 70-pound octopus caught in a crab trap, DeGarimore said he had a dilemma.

On one hand, he didn't want to financially reward the capture of octopuses; on the other, DeGarimore said he couldn't bear the thought of "a beautiful animal" being cut up while still alive. He said he paid the fisherman a couple hundred dollars, and Fred temporarily took up residence at Giovanni's Fish Market.

As for the name, DeGarimore said an employee "casually called it Fred, and it stuck."

A post about Fred's rescue appeared on DeGarimore's company Facebook page, drawing a massive and largely positive response.

But on Thursday, it was time for Fred to go home; DeGarimore said he released the octopus in a secure place, well away from risks in the bay such as sea lions.

DeGarimore said he actually was following in the footsteps of his cousin, Robin Walker, who bought a live octopus from a San Luis Obispo sushi restaurant in 2010 and released it back into the wild.

"She was kind of my inspiration," he said.

DeGarimore said he didn't intend for his action to get as much fanfare as it has, but said he would be happy "if my little contribution can make a bigger difference in the world."

That contribution includes no longer selling any octopus-related products on his website, which serves customers across the country, he said.

"It'll hit me in the pocket, but I'd rather stand for something," he said.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler