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

The Mystery of the Vanishing Squid in South Atlantic

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 20 2010 (IPS) - Environmental factors, lack of cooperation and overfishing have caused a sharp fall in catches of squid in the southwestern Atlantic ocean, the most important fishery in the world for this species.

In the first six months of this year, the squid catch fell by 50.4 percent compared to the same period in 2009, which had again been a very bad year compared to 2008.

In the first half of 2009, 58,000 tonnes of squid were caught, but the amount dropped to 29,000 tonnes in the first half of this year. In 2007, the Argentine fishing fleet alone caught 232,000 tonnes, while even more was caught by foreign ships operating just outside the exclusive economic zone, which extends up to 200 nautical miles from the shore.

Exports of squid, Argentina’s second largest fisheries export after hake (Merluccius hubbsi), contracted 68 percent by volume in the same period of this year, driving prices up.

Companies, environmental organisations and scientists agree that rather than a single cause, a number of factors are impacting on this short-lived species which is highly sensitive to changes in its habitat.

Squid, regarded as a delicacy served stuffed or as fried rings, live for about a year. After mating, females release fertilised eggs onto the sea bottom, and hatched juveniles continue the cycle in the next season.

Different varieties of squid are abundant in the exclusive economic zones of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and in the waters surrounding the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, sovereignty of which is in dispute between Argentina and the UK, which has occupied them since the 19th century.

“Squid is a resource that changes rapidly, and is subject to strong natural fluctuations that could be happening more frequently because of climate change,” said Guillermo Cañete, marine programme coordinator for the Argentine Wildlife Foundation.

Guillermo Jacob, head of the Bahía Grande company, told IPS that his firm this year fished half the amount they had caught in 2009, when in turn they had taken only half as much as they caught in 2008.

Jacob attributed the meagre recent catches to natural changes that have led squid to search for cooler or deeper currents. “Our fishing methods are sustainable and there is no great pressure on squid as a resource,” he said.

“There are big differences in the catch from one year to another because the environmental conditions vary a lot, perhaps because of climate change,” he added.

Only now, when the season is almost over, are numbers increasing, so this year may not be a total loss for some. But most company owners are worried, especially those who rely exclusively on squid.

Jacob ruled out pressure from foreign boats operating beyond the exclusive economic zone as a reason for the reduced catches, even though these boats have competitive advantages because they are financed so that they can spend long seasons on the high seas, with crews that are paid a pittance.

In good fishing years, there may be up to 300 squid jigger vessels — using machines designed to catch squid selectively — most of them from Asia, as well as some Spanish trawlers that are more destructive than the squid jiggers, according to environmentalists.

Before releasing their eggs, females become lethargic and sink, and are not attracted to the lures on the jigger boats, whereas trawler nets catch males and females indiscriminately.

According to Cañete, “a synergistic effect between natural changes and overfishing must be avoided, and a policy of adaptation” to the new ocean climate conditions is needed.

But to do this requires information, he said, and in recent years there has been a dearth of data because of trade union problems at the National Institute for Fisheries Research and Development (INIDEP). For the last two seasons, INIDEP has not sent observers out with the fishing fleet to prepare forecasts for the next season.

“It isn’t easy to say why squid numbers are decreasing. We have no evidence that it is because of the catch rate,” INIDEP research director Otto Wöhler told IPS.

In his view, “natural elements that are causing noticeable fluctuations may be responsible,” but this “has not been conclusively demonstrated.”

“Fishing at mile 201 affects squid reproductive potential,” he acknowledged, while adding, however, that there is no information for confirming or ruling out this hypothesis in the present fishing season.

According to the Argentine Fisheries Secretariat, there are less than 100 squid jigger vessels registered and licensed to catch squid within the exclusive economic zone, and in good years there may be up to 300 foreign boats at mile 201.

There are also vessels operating with licenses issued by the authorities of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, who set different catch limits. Argentina insists on conserving 40 percent of the species for breeding, while the Malvinas/Falkland Islands set a limit in tonnes.

According to a source consulted by IPS at the non-governmental Fundación Nuestro Mar, the global trend for organising sustainable fisheries is to create regional bodies with common standards.

But this prospect is complicated by the territorial conflict between Argentina and the UK, and by difficulties in patrolling the area of ocean adjacent to mile 201, said the source who chose to remain anonymous.

A commission made up of representatives of the two countries regulated fisheries for a time, but in 2005 Argentina stopped participating because it was unwilling to recognise British rights to fishing in the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

forbidden love chinese drama 2022