Researchers focus on collapsed SA squid fishery

PORT ELIZABETH: The collapse of the local squid fishery on the south-east coast of South Africa in 2013 has prompted an international body of scientists and policymakers to meet this September. The group will bring together different research disciplines to discuss this small but high-value export fishery, which collapsed in the summer of 2013 and 2014.

Their agenda will include both the bio-physical and socio-economic aspects of the fishery, and will parallel further studies in East Africa.

‘Squid fishing along the coast near Port Elizabeth was originally a bait fishery,’ explains associate professor Tony Leiman, a resource economist from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU).

‘However, sold as calamari it is a premium product on export markets, particularly in Mediterranean countries.’

The fishermen use lines, rather than nets, to bring in the catch, which produces a high-quality product. This method involves luring the animals to the surface at night using lights. Even though this is a small volume fishery, it has become one of the leading contributors to the local economy of coastal towns such as Jeffreys Bay.

‘The 2013 crash isn’t the first of its kind, but we don’t fully understand what’s driving it, or how best to mitigate its effects,’ explains Leiman, who will join the team of experts from the University of Portsmouth, the South African government, and Nelson Mandela University.

The drop in catch numbers could result from a change in water turbidity, where murkiness obscures the fishermen’s lights and reduces the ability to attract squid. Alternatively, the squid population could have collapsed owing to overfishing, or because of poor breeding success.

Leiman says the group will bring together the physical and environmental sciences, with social sciences. A number of issues warrant further study, including inter-species linkages such as that between the squid resource and the tuna fishery.

The group is rallying under the research title SOLSTICE-WIO - ‘sustainable oceans livelihood and food security through increased capacity in ecosystem research - western Indian ocean’, and work will kick off this September.

News | 25 August 2017