BOF to look at new squid fishery

Warming waters may be opening up new opportunities for fishermen in Southeast Alaska as spawning market squid have been spotted, according to the Juneau Empire.

A proposal to create a squid fishery in Southeast is slated for the Board of Fisheries meeting Jan. 11-23 in Sitka, and at least four fishermen think there is enough there to begin catching and selling them.

Those four fishermen currently hold “commissioner’s permits” to test a market squid fishery in Southeast, Alasak Department of Fish and Game Regional Coordinator Karla Bush said. Fishermen can apply for a commissioner’s permit if they think there’s an opportunity to establish a new fishery. They can then test the fishery out, report back to the state and go from there.

The four fishermen who have received market squid commissioner’s permits have not yet been able to locate a density of squid worth fishing, but that could change.

Commissioner’s permits were issued for a jig fishery targeting a different squid species called armhook squid, Bush said. Between 2012 and 2017, ADF&G issued 31 permits for that fishery, though fishermen were only able to harvest a small amount of squid.

The idea of a market squid fishery was explored in 1982 and 1983, according to a paper provided to the Empire by Mike Navarro, a UA Southeast Assistant Marine Fisheries Professor. Navarro, who works with federal agencies and fishermen to track market squid, said Alaska waters are historically too cold for market squid to thrive, but that is changing, especially during El Niño years.

When they spawn, the embryos need a water temperature above at least 8 degrees Celsius or 46 degrees Fahrenheit or they will not hatch.

Market squid have been observed spawning in Southeast since at least 2015 when a researcher spotted them spawning near Sitka. They had been seen for several weeks in 2005, but 2015 was the first year they were observed spawning, Navarro said.

It is not clear yet how many squid are in Southeast, if there are enough for a fishery and if they will stay. Ocean temperatures are creeping upward but still fluctuate from year to year.

Long-term trends forecast the average ocean temperatures creeping ever upward, meaning market squid have at least a chance in Southeast and the Gulf of Alaska.

“If the water temp continues to increase as is forecasted, I would say they would be here and potentially could become abundant,” Navarro said.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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