The Humboldt squid in the sights

July 11, 2021 00:00
Isabel Alarcón

Foreign vessels are heading to Montevideo to resupply themselves. Photo Courtesy Milko Schvartzman

Known as the Squid Route, the name not only refers to the migration of this animal, but also to the route that hundreds of foreign ships take every year to catch it. This species summons the fleet, mostly Asian, which crosses the entire planet and settles in the eastern Pacific. Its overexploitation can put marine ecosystems at risk.

The Humboldt giant squid is an endemic species to this area of ​​the ocean. This is the only place in the world where you can find it. This animal is a key part of the ecosystem where it lives for about a year; during that period of time, it must avoid the fishing of these boats, which never stops.

According to the organization Global Fishing Watch, the catch of this animal has grown significantly since the 2000s. Its demand continues to increase, as it is known for its high nutritional value. 75% of the specimen can be harvested and in Asia it is often offered in restaurants or sold as frozen seafood packaged in supermarkets.

Milko Schvartzman, specialist in marine conservation at the Circle of Environmental Policies of Argentina , explains that the presence of these boats in the eastern Pacific is related to the absence of fishing resources in its oceans. The fishing grounds in the regions close to Asian countries have been exhausted or are at the limit of exploitation.

For this reason, they are sent to explore new areas that, for the moment, still have the resource. In addition, says Schvartzman, governments such as China subsidize operations in different ways, allowing these ships to travel long distances. Otherwise, this fishing would not be profitable.

More than 300 boats are stationed between December and May in the western South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina, to fish for the Illes argentinux squid species.

Between May and July, they move to the Pacific and change their prey. As they go up past Chile, they begin to follow the Humboldt squid. Depending on oceanographic conditions, they operate to the north of that country. Then, they go to the south of Peru and then head to the west of the Galapagos. The ships are located on the outskirts of the Exclusive Economic Zones .

Schvartzman says that the Humboldt is the most caught squid on the planet. The latest FAO report reveals that squid, cuttlefish, octopus and shrimp landings have increased “greatly” since 1990 in the Northwest Pacific.

Pablo Guerrero, director of Marine Conservation for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Ecuador, says that foreign fleets take advantage of a resource such as squid, which does not have enough data on its conservation and is not fully regulated.

It is not known with certainty what its reproduction cycles are like and it is included in the category of ‘Insufficient data’ according to the IUCN. For Guerrero, it is necessary to promote research on this animal on an international scale.

The decrease in squid populations not only affects the species itself, but also causes an imbalance in the food chain. This species is the food of vulnerable animals, such as marine mammals, and also species of economic importance, such as picudos. These include marlin, sailfish, swordfish, and various species of tuna.

Regarding regulations, Guerrero explains that the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization operates in this region , which was created to regulate two species. First, horse mackerel, which is an animal of great interest to Chile and Peru, and in recent years he has begun to look at squid.

Guerrero says that the big problem is that the foreign fleet does not report how much it catches, it does not have observers on board, it is not accountable to the RFMO, it often turns off its location systems and engages in transshipments. In addition, they hide behind the fact that they are on the outskirts of the EEZ for their activities.

Read the original coverage from El Comercio at

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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