Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Longfin Squid Catch a Break

This adult Atlantic longfin squid was collected in the Vineyard Sound off Massachusetts and photographed in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution lab. Atlantic longfin squid are an important food source for many ocean predators, including seabirds, whales, dolphins, summer flounder, striped bass, black sea bass, and scup. Image via Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Several years ago, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council began thinking about making amendments to the longfin squid fishery. Longfin squid are an important forage species especially off the coasts of New England. They are a source of food for commercial, recreational, and other familiar species such as sea bass, flounder, and bluefish.

Why Do We Care?

Having a healthy population of forage species is crucial to maintaining food webs and a productive ecosystem. So when fishermen and scientists began reporting changes in the fishery, the Council took notice. The longfin squid fishery is currently split into three trimesters, running from January to April (Trimester 1), May to August (Trimester 2), and September to December (Trimester 3). The total annual squid quota is divided among the three trimesters.

Longfin squid aggregate to spawn mostly in the summer time (Trimester 2), and particularly in inshore areas along the coast. The areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have historically attracted large populations of squid during spawning season. Unfortunately, fishermen are keen to this spawning pattern, and inshore trawlers target the groups of squid, which interferes with their ability to reproduce and reduces the likelihood of squid eggs hatching successfully.

To date, the fishery has been allowed to roll over unused quota from Trimester 1 into Trimester 2, which increases the catch limit on squid in the summer spawning months. That combined with “incidental catch” rules that allow boats to catch another 2,500 pounds of squid — even after the quota is met and the fishery closes– puts a lot of fishing pressure on a population at its most vulnerable time. 2016 was the worst year yet for squid. The Trimester 2 quota was originally set at 8 million pounds, but the actual squid landings exceeded 18 million pounds due to roll over (additional 4 million pounds) and incidental catch limit rules (additional 6 million pounds).

Amendment Outcome

After developing alternatives and allowing for public comments, the Mid-Atlantic Council returned with its decision on the amendment earlier this month. They have decided to reduce the incidental catch limit for squid from 2,500 pounds to 250 pounds. This is a positive outcome for the squid, as it will reduce fishing pressure and disturbances during the spawning season and reduce the impacts of trawling on the ocean floor. This is a very encouraging decision, which reflects the Council’s commitment to managing fisheries with a sustainable ecosystem approach.

However, more can and needs to be done. During the public comment period, many groups advocated for entirely eliminating roll over from Trimester 1 to Trimester 2, which would avoid increasing the catch limit in the summer and prevent overharvesting of vulnerable squid. It’s unfortunate that the Council did not choose to do this, and it should be considered in future actions. To take it one step further, a spawning closure in the areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket should be implemented to protect large spawning groups of squid. There is no reason why fishermen should be allowed to target spawning squid. This is vitally important if we wish to have future abundant populations of squid.

Taking these additional steps will further reduce fishing pressure in sensitive areas and give squid the best chance they have to reproduce and maintain a healthy population for years to come.


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