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Slump in global squid catch ignites fisheries management efforts

Slump in global squid catch ignites fisheries management efforts

A global slump in the catch of squid — that has caused alarm bells as prices for key commercial species rocket — is bringing some of the biggest industry players together in an effort to improve squid fisheries
management. But significant obstacles stand in their way, with China’s role front and center.
In recent years squid has become an increasingly important commercial species. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global squid catch has increased from 3.09 million metric tons in 2000, to 3.95m metric tons in 2015.

Expert Q&A: Squid fisheries management

Squid previously discarded as worthless bycatch is now the target of international fleets.
But in 2016, global catch fell by over a million metric tons, to 2.79m metric tons (see graph below). Prices of Argentine shortfin squid, a key benchmark, have more than doubled. This season’s Argentine squid catch in international waters is said to be half last year’s levels, or worse.
Speaking to Undercurrent News, Sam Grimley, director of strategic initiatives at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), an NGO, said concerns have mobilized industry stakeholders to come together to find solutions. Today, several fisheries improvement projects (FIP) are now underway or in the pipeline; five years ago, bar a couple in North America, there were none.
“We didn’t have to go out to rally industry to do something about squid,” Grimley said. “It was more we had a number of companies in Spain and North America come to us in the last two to three years and say, ‘We’re concerned about the sustainability of the squid fisheries we’re sourcing from. What can we do about it?’”
“In the past twelve months alone we’ve seen significant progress,” he said.
Squid falls into the tail end of many large US and European companies’ product range, according to Grimley. But with firms making progress with their other sustainability commitments, the big US and European importers have now turned their attention to squid.
Obstacles to sustainable squid fisheries management appear daunting, however. Less than 1% of global squid catch is certified sustainable, while only one squid fishery has been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), according to SFP. Supply chains are fiendishly complex and catch data patchy. Stocks frequently straddle international waters or exclusive economic zones of more than one country – often both.
Existing fisheries management systems may not be suited for squid, according to Geoff Tingley, technical director at SFP (an interview on the challenges of squid fisheries management can be viewed here). The best way to manage many squid species and stocks sustainably is still unknown.
“It’s certainly challenging,” Grimley said.

International challenges

At a global squid supply chain roundtable session organized by SFP at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts back in March, sustainability organizations and industry stakeholders were ready to point out these challenges and more.
Chile’s fishery for jumbo flying squid, or Dosidicus gigas, is typical of oftentimes complex international dynamics impacting squid fisheries.
This year, after Chilean vessels started catching much smaller sizes — on average about 10 kilograms less than in previous years — Chile banned fishing for the first three weeks. As of March, fishing in northern Chile remained banned. But, on the high seas, a large fleet of mainly Chinese vessels continued to fish and was catching squid of 25-30cm, weighing less than 1 kilogram, according to Marcel Moenne, general manager at PacificBlu, a Chilean fishing company. “This was very surprising to us. We are worried sizes are much smaller than previous years’ catch,” he said.

He cited Chinese data which showed up to 200 Chinese fishing vessels fishing for squid outside Chile’s 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), during the peak of the squid fishing season, with numbers rising.
To better manage the stock, Chile has pressed the South Pacific regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) — of which both Chile and China are members — to agree on fishing controls for the high seas, as it achieved with the region’s jack mackerel fishery. “We are demanding a peer review for a stock assessment,” said Moenne.
But a stock assessment – fundamental for any fisheries management program — could prove challenging. While China insists there are two stocks of jumbo flying squid — possibly because it implies its fishing activities don’t affect the squid stock in Chilean waters — Chile insists there is one — implying it does. “It is very difficult,” said Moenne.

China’s role

China’s distant water squid fishing fleet dwarfs fleets of other large squid fishing nations Taiwan and Spain, catching 878,512t of squid in 2014, according to Songlin Wang, China program director at Ocean Outcomes, a fisheries sustainability NGO (although some argue Chinese catch data is overinflated). Of the world’s three most important squid species — jumbo flying squid, Argentine shortfin squid, or Illex argentinus, and Japanese flying squid — all straddle national exclusive economic zones and the high seas, where Chinese vessels operate. Many countries with squid fisheries share Chile’s frustrations with China.

Tingley notes wryly how satellite photos of Chinese vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals show hundreds of vessels hugging the EEZs of Argentine, Chile and Peru (see photo). Argentina and Peru assert Chinese frequently vessels switch off the AIS devices — typically at night — in order to fish in their waters undetected.
According to Pedro Ferreiro, buyer engagement deputy director at SFP, 40% of squid caught inside Argentina’s EEZ is caught illegally by foreign vessels, mainly Chinese.
“20% of global production is just from distant water fishing fleets from China and Taiwan fishing off the coast of South America. When you look at that it’s obvious where you need to focus your efforts,” Sean Murphy, director of communications at SFP, told Undercurrent.

China is also the world’s biggest processor of squid, turning raw squid in frozen blocks into squid rings, tubes and flowers for export to Europe and North America. According to Wang, a quarter of the global squid trade involves China, with the country’s key processing regions exporting 429,600t of squid products in 2016.
“There’s a good chance squid sold in markets in Europe and the US has not only been caught by a Chinese vessel but also passed through a Chinese factory,” said Wang. Some Chinese factories are huge; in early 2017, Shandong Haidu Ocean Product, a subsidiary of Weihai-based Weihai Chishan Group, opened the world’s largest single-story squid processing factory, with 200,000t of cold-storage capacity.

According to Wang, China’s involvement means traceability and supply chains are “very difficult and complicated”.

Buyer pressure

To engage China, European and US importers are clubbing together to exert pressure on suppliers in the country, threatening to switch to other
suppliers if they don’t participate in sustainability programs. A program recently launched for Japanese flying squid, or Todarodes pacificus, shows how this approach can drive progress even in the most complicated squid fisheries.

Japanese flying squid migrates through the EEZs of China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan, and in the high seas. The main fishing season occurs in the Sea of Japan. In recent years, the catch has fallen by around half, said Brian Caouette, former program director of Ocean Outcomes. Domestic squid catch by South Korean and Japanese vessels is down by around 75%.
“It’s really hitting home in these countries,’ he said. Nippon Suisan Kaisha, one of Japan’s largest fishing companies, has had to develop alternatives for squid used in sushi.
Illegal fishing is the “major issue”, said Caouette, with a record 5,000 vessels illegally entering Japanese waters last year. North Korean vessels — sometimes just two-man skiffs also referred to as ghost ships — and Chinese vessels are the main culprits.

In December, South Korea’s military fired warnings shots at a group of Chinese fishing vessels in South Korean waters.
“It’s a very complicated geopolitical context. There’s a lot going on there,” said Caouette.
Caouette said there’s a groundswell between Japanese and South Koreans to try to manage the fishery better. After South Korea was issued a yellow card by the EU for fishing violations which threatened its seafood exports to the trade bloc, the country improved its vessel monitoring capacity; it now tracks 100% of its distant water tuna fishing fleet.
But there is no RFMO for squid in the region, he notes. And the North Pacific fisheries commission — comprising South Korea, China, Japan, US, and Canada — does not manage squid.
“The technology is there. But the management isn’t,” he said.

So, US and European importers came up with their own plan. On April 12, Ocean Outcomes announced it was launching a FIP for Japanese flying squid, in collaboration with large European and US importers Sea Farms and PanaPesca USA, as well as Chinese industry association China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance. An initial assessment is underway.
Ocean Outcomes’ Japanese flying squid FIP will first focus on China’s trawl fishery in the Yellow Sea. But it hopes in future to expand coverage to the entire fishery in the region. It also aims to achieve MSC status.
“That’s a really good example of supply chain roundtable members being able to sit there and work collaboratively to support this fisheries project,” said Grimley.

Supply chain roundtable

Indeed, when it comes to industry involvement, SFP takes the position incremental progress through buyer leverage, like Ocean Outcomes’ aforementioned FIP, can achieve some of the best results at fisheries level.
“You do have the fishing companies that are open and in line, trying to address some of these issues. But it really starts with those middle-of-the-supply-chain importers and distributors coming together on a pre-competitive basis saying ‘let’s get some of these projects up and running’,” said Grimley.
Hence, SFP identifies 18 different squid fisheries — amounting to 56% of the world’s squid production – where there are supply chain leverage and interest, according to its report ‘Target 75 Sector Update: Squid’. According to SFP’s website, 28 European and North American companies — including High Liner Foods, Young’s Seafood, and PanaPesca USA — are now signed up to its global squid supply chain roundtable.
A FIP for Chinese common squid, loligo chinesis, in the East China Sea, is also the fruit of this collaborative, buyer-led approach. It came after Beaver Street Fisheries — a US seafood processor, importer, and distributor — had attempted to establish a FIP for the fishery alone.
“They [Beaver Street] went in and tried to do this FIP by themselves. But they realized pretty quickly they didn’t have the leverage to get the FIP up and running. And so they opened it up to other companies in the US that import squid,” said Grimley. “And now the FIP is up running and it’s doing good things.”

Doing a stock assessment

Sustainability projects are now up and running for Peru’s jumbo flying squid and Mexico’s jumbo flying squid fishery, too. There are also calls for a FIP for the Argentine shortfin squid fishery, although a stumbling block is the southwest Atlantic region’s lack of an RFMO.
But it’s one thing to start a FIP, and another to carry it through successfully. Herein lies a key challenge for squid fisheries management plans: squid require a fundamental rethink of management processes owing to their unique biology compared with finfish, as Tingley, who worked on stock assessments for the Falkland Islands’ Loligo and Illex squid fisheries, points out.
“The fact that squid is, on the whole, annual species — they grow up, they spawn, then they die — means there is no standing stock. This has implications for the fisheries and how they are managed.”

Assessments need to be done in real-time aboard vessels, he said. Models of stock patterns throughout each season must be drawn up to compare real-time data, while migration and environmental changes also need to be considered.
“It’s quite labor intensive,” said Tingley. He noted New Zealand, a comparatively rich country with long experience in fisheries management, has “struggled” to complete a stock assessment for its arrow squid fishery.
“You need to run a stock assessment every year. But there are very few squid stocks in the world where stock assessments are done on a regular basis,” he said.

For some, all these efforts are largely unnecessary anyway. Speaking to the Financial Times, Hu Shibao, president of CNFC Overseas Fisheries Co, a unit of one of China’s largest state-owned fishing conglomerates, said squid “die anyway within a year and a half, so the resource is relatively stable”. Because of this lifecycle, the argument goes, squid populations are replenished each year.
Tingley agrees big spawnings can be generated from relatively small populations. He also notes squid populations can change year-to-year by factors of ten even when they are not fished because of environmental factors (El Nino being the main one, and largely the cause of 2016’s slump in the global catch).
“[However,] one can prove theoretically that the assumption [squid cannot be overfished] is wrong. So, for example, if your total squid population was 100 animals, and you caught 100 animals, there would be no stock next year. So clearly that stock relationship exists, and squid stocks can be overfished,” he said.
“Generally a conservative approach would be to leave 40% of the animals in the water to spawn; that’s a level used in several fisheries with little information otherwise.”
At the Boston seafood show roundtable event, Jeff Kaelin of New Jersey’s Lund’s Fisheries underlined the hard work needed to certify a squid fishery; the US east coast fishery was awarded MSC status for longfin loligo squid (Doryteuthis Amerigo pealeii) in May this year. It is the first squid fishery to achieve the status.
“This process has taken two years to certify a process that has been in place for over 20 years. We’ve spent our professional lives in fisheries
management programs. We are really happy to be at the end of this road,” he said.

For many other squid fisheries around the world, however, time appears to be in short supply.

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