Combatting Illegal, Unregulated Squid Fisheries

Combatting Illegal, Unregulated Squid Fisheries

Grantee Sustainable Fisheries Partnership
Grant Amount $1,295,000
Duration Three Years

Squids are short-lived and fast-growing species, with high feeding rates, conversion efficiencies, and high reproductive rates. Highly dependent on environmental variability, squids have become the source of livelihoods for entire small-scale fishing communities. From an ecosystem perspective, squids are considered a ‘keystone‘ species and play a vital role in ocean life, because they are food for larger marine animals like dolphins, whales, and sea lions, alongside coveted fish and sea birds. Squids and other cephalopods do not build internal or external skeletons so they grow very quickly, converting their prey into biomass at the most efficient rate found among marine animals. As a result, squids serve as ‘biological pumps’ of ecosystems and are a vital nutrient vector due to their role as connectors of spatially distinct marine ecosystems.

As a result of weak governance, some squid fisheries have reportedly suffered the negative effects of overfishing up to collapse. As ‘keystone‘ species, the potential collapse of some of the most important squid species would bring along not only the collapse of unique marine ecosystems that are among the most productive in the world (e.g., the Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem) but also their connected ecosystems, putting at risk the health of the globe’s oceans.

Worldwide, the two most important commercial squid fisheries, which are responsible for the majority of global landings, rely on species found along the coasts and within oceanic waters bordering the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of South America’s countries: the Jumbo Flying Squid fishery in the South Pacific and the Argentine Shortfin Squid fishery, among other fisheries.

Of the wide variety of squid fisheries, those occurring in international waters face a few common sustainability challenges. First is the rapid and uncontrolled expansion enabled by a lack of regulations or strict limitations on fishing effort, further fueled by large-scale subsidies from flag-state countries. Moreover, recent evidence has highlighted rampant IUU fishing by distant water fleets (DWFs), resulting from the unregulated (e.g., Argentine shortfin squid within international waters) and unreported (e.g., Indian Ocean squid fisheries on the high seas) status of entire fleets, as well as illegal behavior, such as unlicensed DWF fishing operations within coastal countries’ EEZs.

In addition to the risk of overfishing of squid stocks and the health of marine ecosystems, the increased fishing effort of highly subsidized DWFs further exacerbates issues of social justice. DWF catches compete—both in the water and in the market—with the catches of non-subsidized and often institutionally marginalized artisanal fleets (operating in the informal economy and subject to corruption and abuse from authorities, criminal groups, informal moneylenders, and middle traders) for whom squid forms the main livelihood, further pushing them to increase their pressure on the resource.

Despite all the above, the end markets have felt little urgency to address these issues until recently. This is partially due to the complex supply chains, the low levels of compliance and implementation of mandatory catch documentation schemes and import control measures, and the lack of pressure exerted on market actors to take active steps to resolve the issues.

This project aims to further Sustainable Fisheries Partnership’s work to address IUU fishing and human rights abuses in squid fisheries, with special attention paid to the Distant Water Fleets (DFWs) operating on the high seas. This includes addressing the different dimensions of IUU fishing, in particular illegal fishing activity, but also unregulated and unreported fishing.