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Short-finned squid (Illex illecebrosus)

Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council

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Shortfin squid inhabit offshore continental shelf and slope waters from Florida to Newfoundland but their distribution and abundance is highly influenced by changing ocean conditions. The lifespan of shortfin squid is less than one year and mortality from predation is high. Whales, porpoises, and numerous pelagic fishes such as tuna and swordfish prey heavily on shortfin squid. Other known fish predators of Illex include the fourspot flounder, goosefish, and bluefish.1

During the era when foreign factory trawlers plundered North America's coastal fisheries from the late 1960s to early 1980s, shortfin squid landings soared from 3.5 million pounds to over 357 million pounds before plummeting. Since the mid-1990s, annual landings have averaged more than 30 million pounds but catches have been highly variable and much lower recently. The contemporary U.S. bottom trawl fishery is managed under the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's management plan for Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish and occurs during summer and fall months, concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic Bight.

Management Issues
Although Amendment 8 to the squid management plan established reference points corresponding to maximum sustainable yield (MSY), scientists are not able to evaluate the status of shortfin squid with respect to overfishing because estimates of stock abundance and fishing mortality in any given year are highly uncertain. The short lifespan of squid and difficulty of measuring stock abundance with conventional survey techniques cast doubt on management targets for MSY, which are not well-suited to squid�s unique life history.

Management regulations include annual catch limits partitioned into quarterly quotas, as well as a moratorium on fishery permits to prevent expansion of the fishing fleet and a minimum codend mesh size. However, there are crucial shortcomings in the Loligo management plan:

  • Optimum Yield (OY) may be set equal to the maximum fishing mortality rate associated with maximum sustainable yield (MSY), providing no margin for error and no buffer to account for uncertainty about MSY for this stock. To reduce the risk of overfishing, OY should be set well below the theoretical MSY level of fishing.
  • The policy of setting the annual quota at 75% of the maximum fishing mortality rate provides some margin of safety against the risk of exceeding MSY in theory, but MSY is not known and this procedure but does not account for the needs of predators or the impacts on the recovery of overfished squid predators such as the bluefish or tuna (Staudinger 2006).
  • The minimum stock size threshold below which fishing must cease is too low and leaves no margin of safety by allowing fishing until the stock has been reduced to less than half of the biomass associated with MSY.

Copyright � Marine Fish Conservation Network. All Rights Reserved 2007

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