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Market squid (Logligo opalescens)

Pacific Fishery Management Council

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Squid are major food sources for a wide variety of larger carnivorous fish, seabirds, and mammals in all the world's oceans. Short lifespan (typically 1 year or less) and high sensitivity to variable ocean conditions combine to make squid an unpredictable boom and bust fishery. In a boom year, squid fisheries may remove large percentages of the local stock and deplete heavily fished areas � taking food that would otherwise be available to foraging fish, birds and mammals. California market squid are important forage for the West Coast's endangered and threatened stocks of king and coho salmon, as well as many other fish species, seabirds and marine mammals. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions all feed extensively on squid when it is available. In all, market squid are known to be major prey items for at least 19 species of fish, 13 species of birds, and six mammals (Zeidberg et al. 2006).1

California market squid have been fished at low levels since the 19th century for bait and food, but landings have soared to unprecedented levels since the 1980s, peaking in 2000 at over 117,000 metric tons (258 million pounds). In the past decade, market squid has been the largest fishery off California in some years. During the strong El Nino of 1997-1998, however, squid abundance was very low and landings plummeted to less than 2 million pounds. The fishery consists mainly of boats using high wattage lights to attract squid to the surface, where seine nets encircle and scoop them up.

The fishery is also highly localized and concentrates on known squid spawning grounds around the Channel Islands, Santa Monica Bay, and southern Monterey Bay. Very large quantities of squid are rapidly removed from relatively small areas, raising the risk of localized depletion. Recently California has adopted time-and-area closures in state waters to allow for undisturbed spawning (Zeidberg et al. 2006).

Management Issues
Scientists have no estimate of market squid abundance. The level of fishing mortality corresponding to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is unknown and squid abundance in any given year or location is highly uncertain. The short lifespan of squid and difficulty of measuring stock abundance make conventional fishery assessments unreliable. Therefore it is impossible to know if overfishing is occurring from year to year.

Without an effective management plan, market demand will drive the level of squid fishing (Zeidberg et al. 2006). Management regulations do include an annual catch limit and restrictions on the number of vessels in the fishery, as well as recently adopted time-and-area closures on spawning grounds. Squid�s unique life history, uncertain and fluctuating abundance, and ecological importance as a forage fish require a high degree of precautionary management, starting with conservative fishery catch limits designed to avoid depleting localized concentrations of squid.

1 Louis D. Zeidberg et al. The fishery for California market squid (Loligo opalescens) from 1981 through 2003. Fish. Bull. 104: 46-59 (2006).

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