Economy & Trade, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

ENVIRONMENT-ARGENTINA: Squid Population under Siege

Marcela Valente - Tierramérica*

BUENOS AIRES, Apr 4 2003 (IPS) - The illex squid (Illex argentinus) found in Argentina’s ocean waters are under threat from indiscriminate fishing, often by foreign vessels operating in the area, many without permits.

This species of squid is in high demand by consumers in East Asia. The South Atlantic is home to the second richest reserves of calamar illex in the world, after the North Pacific.

An enormous quantity of this seafood favourite, also known as calamari on restaurant menus around the world, is concentrated in the 200-nautical-mile band extending from the Argentine coast, which is the exclusive economic zone of this South American country.

In the 1990s, the state sold squid fishing licenses to foreign ships, a system that experts blame for excessive exploitation that has endangered this marine food resource.

The Argentine Congress annulled the regimen in 2001, limiting squid fishing largely to Argentine vessels with Argentine crews.

Since then, most foreign fishing boats have had to remain beyond the 200-mile mark or purchase fishing licenses in the Falklands/Malvinas Islands – controlled by Britain – where squid is less abundant.

The foreign fishing outfits that have opted to fish for squid far out to sea find little or nothing, returning to port emptyhanded. And those who have gone to the Falklands/Malvinas take in a tenth of what they captured along the Argentine coast.

But for the first time, Argentine firms are exporting these calamari squid.

The local fishing community is concerned, nonetheless, because the state has allowed 15 foreign vessels to join the nearly 100 Argentine ships operating in the area with the argument that the national fleet was not enough to take advantage of the existing squid population.

The Argentine navy, meanwhile, warns that illegal fishing has seen a notable increase.

In 2000, according to navy sources, 232 foreign fishing ships – mostly from China, Taiwan and South Korea – were found capturing squid illegally within the 200-mile exclusive zone. In 2001, there were 296 such cases, and in 2002 the total reached 347.

This year, just since January, more than 220 vessels have been found operating clandestinely.

Ernesto Godelman, of the non-governmental Cedepesca (Center for the Defense of National Fishing) told Tierramérica that he thinks the great number of illegal foreign calamari ships is due to the scant population of the squid around the Falklands/Malvinas Islands.

Greater monitoring is essential, says Godelman, to prevent the overall capture of the species from surpassing 60 percent of its total population. Beyond that limit, he says, the squid runs the risk of suffering a sharp decline, as occurred with the merluza hubbsi, a hake variety, Argentina’s leading fishing product.

The authorities put strict limits on hake captures in 2000, when the maximum quota for three months had already been caught within the first month of that year. The restriction hurt the fishing industry, its workers and even the state itself, because it saw a source of revenues decline.

Despite the world fame of Argentine beef, for years the country’s income from fish exports has nearly doubled that of beef sales.

* Tierramérica is a specialised news service ( produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

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