Fishing industry faces crisis over plunging deep sea squid catch


TAIPEI, Taiwan — The deep sea fishing business in Taiwan is facing a crisis because of precipitous drops in its squid and saury catch. In 2009, the squid catch fell 71.39 percent and the saury catch fell 25.3 percent, dealing a harsh blow to an industry still suffering the impact of a 2005 cut in the country’s tuna fishing quota.

Taiwan is the leading squid and saury supplier in the world, and the catch of these two species accounted for 45.85 percent of the country’s deep sea fishing haul in 2008, according to the Fisheries Agency’s 2009 Fisheries Statistical Yearbook published in July.

But the decline has continued to deepen this year. Taiwanese vessels captured only 30,000 tons during this year’s fishing season ending in June, not even half of the 68,746 tons caught in 2009.

The main reason for the fall is that Taiwanese fishing boats have been unable to secure decent squid catches in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands and Argentina — the world’s main squid fishery.

It is unknown whether the precipitous plunge is just a cyclical change or a warning sign that marine resources are drying up. Local Argentine fishermen are also pondering the mystery as their catch has dropped 68 percent year-on-year, according to the Inter Press Service (IPS), an independent news agency focusing on globalization and environmental issues.

Chiu Tai-sheng, a professor in National Taiwan University’s Institute of Zoology, said historical data on squid catches in the southwestern Atlantic show a production cycle of five to six years.

The previous low point for Taiwan’s squid catch in the area came in 2004, when Taiwanese fishermen caught less than 10,000 tons.

Chiu said that compared to the average catch of 150,000-160,000 tons a year in the past, which accounts for a third of the world’s production, fishermen may have overfished by catching nearly 300,000 tons of squid in 2007 and 240,000 tons in 2008.

The contentious history between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands has resulted in the lack of an organization overseeing and regulating squid fishing in the region, the IPS said, which may have helped contribute to overfishing.

Chiu says climate change may also have contributed to the declining returns.

In Taiwan, the fall in supply has affected people’s everyday lives, as squid is now hardly found in local supermarkets. Food vendors have raised the price of squid dishes or stopped offering them all together.

As both dried and frozen squid inventories in Taiwan have fallen to extremely low levels, the price is expected to rise further.