Squid is a highly commercially valuable species, but in Britain there are few commercial vessels specifically targeting squid, and they are usually caught as a bycatch in bottom trawls which are aimed at catching demersal species such as cod, haddock and plaice. However, there are a few small commercial fishing operations which specialise in catching squid, mostly off the south west coast of England and the north west of Scotland where the species Loligo forbesi is by far the most commonly caught. Elsewhere in the world (USA, Australia) there are large scale squid fishing operations. Indeed, on a worldwide basis over 2.18 million tons of squid and cuttlefish are caught every year.
With the declining numbers of many species of finfish around the world are seeing commercial fisheries look to expand into new areas of fishing. Squid and cuttlefish seen as currently underexploited species which could provide a new area for commercial operations to exploit. However, the unregulated nature of squid and cuttlefish fishing is a cause for concern.
Commercial Fishing Methods
There are a number of different methods which can be used to catch squid. Shortfin squid species are often caught by jigging. This involves dropping unbaited metal jig lures into the water. The squid attack these lures and their tentacles become entangled in the spikes allowing the squid to be hauled on board. This kind of fishing can be carried out on an extremely small scale basis by inshore fishermen working from small boats or by large-scale distant water vessels using vast mechanised jigs. Whatever scale this type of fishing is carried out the fishermen usually always fish at night and utilise a system of lights on their boats which attracts the nocturnal squid towards the jigs they have in the water. A similar method, often employed by squid fishermen off the west coast of the USA uses lights to attract squid to an area and then catch them in a purse seine net. Indeed, in some areas such as the Gulf of Thailand there are so many squid fishing vessels that the lights are visible from space!
While these methods and techniques catch shortfin squid, longfin species of squid (which are the type most commonly found in British waters) are generally caught using bottom trawl methods which are similar to those used to catch bottom dwelling fish species such as cod and haddock. Another method of catching cuttlefish is to use a trap – similar to a crab or lobster pot – which does not have bait inside of it. Instead it has a live female cuttlefish inside. During the breeding season male cuttlefish will instinctively seek females and therefore enter the pot in large numbers and become trapped.
Catching squid with lights and jigs is seen as seen as very low-impact on the marine environment as there are no heavy nets being dragged over the seabed and, as only squid attack the jigs, it has a low bycatch rate. The same cannot be said of bottom trawling for squid as this method brings with it concern over both bycatch of other species and damage nets and fishing gear does to the seabed. While fishing for cuttlefish using a pots, traps and a live female is generally done on a small-scale basis it is still a heavily criticised method of fishing as it disrupts the naturual breeding patterns of cuttlefish, and destroys eggs which are often laid on the ropes and traps that are being used to catch this species.
There is also great concern over the unregulated nature of squid and cuttlefish fishing. As these species have not been commercially caught in any great numbers before the regulations and legislation over catch limits and quotas lags behind, and there has been little consideration given to the long-term impacts of rapidly expanding the fishing intensity on these species. Squid have complex and poorly understood migratory patterns, and both squid and cuttlefish only reproduce once before they die. Both species breed early in their lives and are fast-growing and short lived, but overfishing an entire generation before it has been able to reproduce will mean that the following year the population will be massively reduced.
The Future of Commercial Fishing for Squid and Cuttlefish
While the market for squid and cuttlefish in the UK is growing it is dwarfed by the demand for fish, particularly the Big Five of cod, haddock, tuna, prawns and salmon. The vast majority of British squid and cuttlefish catches are exported to continental Europe, although UK consumers do appear to be eating more squid and cuttlefish as tastes change and people move away from only eating Big Five species. There is also a huge market for squid elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia, with the Japanese – who are the highest consumers of fish, shellfish and related products in the world – thought to consume around 700,000 tons of squid and cuttlefish species each year.
The combination of a relatively abundant and unexploited commercial species and a readily accessible market means that it is inevitable that both in the UK and across the world there will be an increase in fishing for squid and cuttlefish. The lack of solid data over squid numbers along with the unregulated and unlimited nature of commercial squid fishing means that significant damage could be done to squid stocks in a very short amount of time, unless research-led regulation is implemented both in UK squid fisheries and those elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.