Squid fishery proposed for Southeast

Following warmer waters to Alaska, market squid may be here to stay and at least four Southeast fishermen think there’s enough here to begin catching and marketing them.

A proposal to create a squid fishery in Southeast is slated for the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting Jan. 11-23 in Sitka. If adopted, the board would work with fishermen and stakeholders to develop a purse seine fishery for market squid, which are already being caught in lucrative fisheries in California and Oregon.

Four fishermen currently hold “commissioner’s permits” to test a market squid fishery in Southeast, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Regional Coordinator Karla Bush said by phone Thursday. 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 state issued one commissioner’s permit in 2014 for market squid and three more this year. The four fishermen who’ve received market squid commissioner’s permits haven’t yet been able to locate a density of squid worth fishing.

“This year we’ve issued three commissioner’s permits for purse seine gear. The first one was issued in 2014 but no fishing occurred,” Bush said.

Commissioner’s permits were issued for a jig fishery targeting a different squid species called armhook squid, Bush explained. 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 University of Alaska 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 Navarro said that’s changing as market squid follow warm water as it flows into Southeast during strong El Niño years. Squid need warmer ocean waters to spawn effectively, Navarro said, which Southeast and Gulf of Alaska waters typically don’t have. But warming ocean waters recently have changed that.

“When they spawn, their embryos need the water temperature at least above 8 degrees Celsius,” Navarro said. “The reason is when they develop, they are on the seafloor for a period of weeks and if the water temperature dips below that threshold, then embryos don’t hatch.”

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

It’s 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. If waters are too cold for several years, squid may not be able to spawn and might not be observed in Alaska waters.

But long-term trends forecast the average ocean temperatures creeping ever upward, meaning market squid have at least a chance to gain a tentaclehold in Southeast and the Gulf of Alaska. Navarro said they’ll know more about the long-term viability of market squid in the next two years of research.

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

The proposal’s author is Justin Peeler, owner of a Southeast seine permit and the F/V Defiant. He didn’t immediately return a request for an interview Thursday afternoon.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com or 523-2228. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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