State Plan Could Help Protect Squid, Says NRDC

Environmental and fishing groups back key elements of Department of Fish and Game proposal for managing state's largest fishery

SAN FRANCISCO (April 30, 2001) - Recommendations by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) for a plan to manage the state's valuable squid fishery could help prevent the familiar boom and bust cycle that has afflicted many other marine fish populations, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

DFG submitted recommendations to the Legislature today for managing the squid fishery, paving the way for legislation that would give the Fish and Game Commission long-term oversight of the fishery. Groups frequently at odds with one another -- environmentalists and various sectors of the fishing industry -- support key elements of the plan.

"Squid are too important to California's ocean ecosystems to let them go the way of the sardine," said Karen Garrison, senior policy analyst for NRDC. "Overall, the department's proposal provides an unprecedented opportunity to move toward sustainable management for this important species before a crash occurs. Some elements need to be strengthened, but diverse groups agree that it's best to put management in the hands of the Fish and Game Commission, which has demonstrated its ability to respond quickly to changes in this inherently variable fishery."

Squid is the state's largest, most valuable commercial fishery, bringing in more revenue than rockfish, salmon, swordfish or spot prawns. Squid landings have shot up in recent years as demand has increased, causing concern that the population could face a rapid decline in the absence of a long-term management plan. That's what happened to the sardine fishery off Monterey Bay in the 1940s. A 1997 bill sponsored by NRDC gave the department interim authority to manage the squid fishery, but that authority expires after next year.

Squid are a foundation of the food web in central and Southern California. They are eaten by numerous species of whales, porpoises and other marine mammals, ocean birds, and many familiar fish species, from sea bass and salmon to halibut. Risso's dolphins in the Channel Islands depend on squid for nearly their entire diet.

"Sound management of squid will help sustain ocean ecosystems," said Ann Notthoff, NRDC California advocacy director. "That's why about two dozen environmental and fishing groups have made squid management a top priority this year."

DFG estimates there are about twice as many boats in the fishery as needed, which depresses the price that fishermen get for their catch and makes it difficult for all participants to make a living. The recommendations include limiting the number of boats in the fishery, giving the Fish and Game Commission management authority, maintaining existing regulations, maintaining a squid research and monitoring program, setting a season-wide catch limit, and re-evaluating the management plan at least every two years.

The DFG recommendations are part of a report mandated by SB 364 (1997), which called for a three-year process of research, analysis and advice by public and scientific advisory committees. New legislation will be needed to give the Fish and Game Commission long-term authority to adopt and implement a sustainable squid management plan. The department's report provides the Legislature with a foundation for designing that legislation.