Multi-species and Multi-interest Management: an Ecosystem Approach to Market Squid (Loligo opalescens) Harvest in California


LCDR Edward R. Cassano
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

"Squid must play an important role as a vital link between zooplankton and hydrotrophic levels in the pelagic environment" - CDFG Fishery Bulletin (169) 1978

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary hosted a panel discussion at the October 1997 California Cooperative Oceanic and Fisheries Investigations Conference. This panel discussion focused on ecosystem management implications for the burgeoning market squid fishery with both panel and audience members addressing issues such as: the direct and indirect harvesting effects on squid biomass; the effects of harvest and the role of squid in the broader marine community; the effects of environmental variation on squid population dynamics; the regulatory management issues for an open access; the ramifications of a virtually unregulated fishery; and the sustainability of the fishery from the point of view of both scientists and the fishers themselves. The following executive summary is broken down into subsections that are framed around key points of discussion that were raised by the panel members.

Ecosystem Management

An ecosystem approach to the management of the squid fishery requires that we address the fishery in terms of the role of squid in the ecosystem. The first obvious challenge is to define the ecosystem in which squid are an integral part. By definition, ecosystem management should protect and restore ecological components, functions and structures according to socially defined values and scientific information, in an integrated, holistic manner that does not focus on specific system outputs. This means considering the effects of fishing not only upon the target organism but also upon the food web to which it belongs, allowing for a broad variety of environmental changes within the ecosystem, and regarding the fishing industry in terms of its place within the global market. Ecosystem management also requires local community input and a regional orientation.

Potential Impacts of the Squid Fishery

A key issue raised by the panel and the symposium was the necessity to consider potential fishery impacts upon squid biomass and upon the broader ecosystem. Scientist, regulators, and fishers all agreed that it is imperative to identify a level of harvest that can occur without negatively effecting both squid biomass and the marine ecosystem. Two potential harvest impacts raised during the discussion were: (1) that fishers may harvest squid from an area before they have an opportunity to spawn and (2) that excessively long seine nets may reach the sea floor, disturbing or destroying developing eggs. In order to determine a sustainable harvest level, several panelist recommended more research and monitoring be conducted to further our understanding of squid biomass and population dynamics.

Recognizing Environmental Variability

"There is large scale environmentally forced variability in these populations that we need to take account of, but we also need to be very careful in the way that we expect this variability to affect populations." Tom Hayward, oceanographer

In order to develop an effective management scheme, panelists suggested that the effects of environmental variation and natural perturbation on squid and the ecosystem need to be considered. Only recently have we begun to recognize the variability and long-term changes in the California Current system and the Southern California Bight, changes that ultimately may affect species and their ecosystems. Effective fishery and ecosystem management requires that we broaden our understanding of the squid resource and its response to both harvest and environmental impacts. Historically, we have witnessed huge fluctuations in catch apparently associated with environmental variability, however, it is important to differentiate between variation in harvest yields resulting from changes in the fishing industry and variation in squid biomass due to environmental factors.

For example, during the El Niño Southern Oscillations (ENSO) events, like that of 1997-1998, there was a dramatic decrease in squid catch from a high of nearly 90,000 metric tons in 1996 to almost zero landings in 1997. Squid fishermen, who were fishing during the El Niño of 1982-1983, predicted a dramatic decrease in catch during this latest ENSO event. One panel member noted that during El Niño events, squid probably have a chance to spawn unmolested throughout a year, allowing them an opportunity to recover harvesting. Moreover, the potential for El Niño events to function in the recovery and reproduction of squid was cited as a possible means of maintaining the sustainability of the squid fishing industry.

Forging Partnerships Between Researchers, Regulators, and Fishers

"Overall the fishers agree that something needs to be done, and I do think that a lot of these guys do want to put their input into the mix. It is just the fear of how much to say or what to say. I think the wall needs to come down, and communication needs to be open." Tammy Blonden, light boat operator

Developing partnerships between scientists, fishers, and the regulatory community was suggested by the panel and members of the audience. One benefit may be that researchers and fishers co-develop scientific protocols for collecting data throughout the fishing season. Furthermore, fishers may provide researchers with their knowledge of squid based upon day-to-day observations and years of fishing experience. This sort of traditional knowledge was acknowledged as potentially beneficial in the development of a fishery management plan.

Another mutual benefit of a partnership might aid in finding funding for squid research. By developing research ideas together, fishers and researchers may appeal to a broader funding community by suggesting projects with goals of gathering scientific data to be used in developing a sustainable fishery.

Managing a Sustainable Fishery

At the time of this conference, there was virtually no regulation in the squid industry: no restrictions in terms of the number of boats allowed to enter the fishery, the type of gear allowed within the fishery, and in Southern and Central California, the periods during which the fishery was open.

The combined effects of the increased number and efficiency of squid fishing boats lead not only to record squid landings, but according to panelists, it also lead to severe and dangerous competition among fishers. It was reportedly difficult to find fishing areas that had not yet been explored or occupied by light boats and seiners. Furthermore, in addition to increasing the range of their fishery, fishers also increased the length of time spent fishing and the conditions in which they were willing to fish, which has the potential to compromise the safety of vessels and crew.

Aside from danger to fishers resulting from the competition for squid, panelists voiced concern that the widespread and consistent harvest on the fishing grounds may infringe upon the ability of the squid to maintain a sustainable population.

Harvest Management Strategies

"This fishery has come a long way in terms of catchability, marketability, and processing ability." Peter Guglielmo, seafood processor

Throughout the course of the discussion, traditional fishery management was challenged, in part due to the dependence on fishery dependent data and that fishery effort and yield may not be the most accurate way to track trends in population abundance or to set harvest guidelines. The panel suggested a number of harvest management guidelines, including: limiting the entry of new vessels, clearly defining and enforcing harvest parameters, and mandatory safety regulations for fishing and light boats, a quota per season based upon the number of boats permitted within the fishery and the estimated overall biomass of the resource; gear restrictions, including lead line composition to protect the seafloor; limitations in light emission; closing the fishery at certain times, on certain days, or in specific areas. Panel members suggested that such closures could provide organisms within the ecosystem feeding and reproduction opportunity without interruption by fishery activities and also allow fishers themselves the opportunity to rest and to make any necessary equipment repairs. Other suggestion by panelists included setting harvest parameters based on a consensus between scientists and fishermen, and addressing light boats and seiners separately by management guidelines.


The panel and audience agree that the squid fishery is in dire need of some form of regulation in order to maintain a sustainable fishery. At the same time, it was recognized that there exists a paucity of basic biological and ecological information on squid. Before a sustainable, ecosystem-oriented management plan may be implemented, research is necessary to assess both the population dynamics, impacts of the fishery, and squid's role in the marine ecosystem. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, by editing and publishing this portion of the squid symposium, hopes to foster an ecosystem perspective and approach to managing the squid fishery. For a richer, in depth review of the panel discussion, we invite you to read the panel member and audience comments in their own words.