In a decision that probably won’t get much press, the California Fish and Game Commission at its meeting in San Diego yesterday rejected a petition by a small group of fishermen to increase the catch limits for market squid. The Commission followed that decision with another asking conservation stakeholders to develop a draft of a new policy for managing forage species, such as squid. Both of these decisions could have long-term ramifications for birds and other wildlife off our shores.
Squid are the keystone prey item for dozens of visiting and breeding seabirds off of California including Albatrosses, Common Murre, Ashy Storm-Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. Squid is also now the most lucrative commercial fishery in California.
The decision on the catch limits came after Audubon, Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Conservancy argued against the increase. This coalition has contended that the current catch limit is already too high, and that these food resources are necessary to support birds and other marine wildlife. The fishermen made the request to take advantage of a boom in squid off our shores, while opponents argued that taking more squid would not only undermine wildlife populations, but also destabilize the always delicate squid fishery. Leaders in the squid industry concurred that it would be unwise to change the quota without more information on squid population dynamics.
Audubon and Oceana contend that the root of the problem is that California lacks an overall policy for forage species that recognizes their unique role in the ecosystem. The state’s fisheries management plan for squid fails to account for the needs of seabirds and other marine wildlife. Both organizations are continuing to push Assembly Bill 1299, which would compel the state to take into account the larger ecosystem needs when setting limits on forage species catch.
The lack of a forage species policy came up again during the discussion of the squid catch. Several Commissioners acknowledged that the state’s lack of a policy for forage species may be undermining wildlife and our economy, and made a motion to invite stakeholders to draft a forage species plan for their formal review. Audubon will be at the forefront of this effort.