Sepia officinalis

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — UK
Stock detail

English Channel

Picture of Cuttlefish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

In the UK the English Channel is the main fishing ground for this species, where their abundance is highly and seasonally variable. The main catching areas are off the coasts of Devon, Dorset and Sussex. Where available, look for cuttlefish taken in trap fisheries where measures have been adopted to protect cuttlefish eggs, e.g. Dorset (Poole, Christchurch) and Brittany. These measures include leaving egg encrusted cuttlefish traps in sheltered areas of the sea to allow the eggs to hatch, and providing a removable surface on the outside of the traps on which cuttlefish can lay their eggs.


Cuttlefish (family Sepiidae) belong to a specialised group of molluscs, known as cephalopods, which also includes octopus and squid. In the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean, the main commercial species is the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), although other species (S. elegans and S. orbignyana) are fished in the Mediterranean. Cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles, like squid, but differ from other cephalopods by the presence of a significant internal skeletal/buoyancy structure, the cuttle bone, which is often found washed up on beaches. The common cuttlefish typically has a two year lifecycle, whilst in southern areas one year is normal. After overwintering in deeper waters, cuttlefish move into shallow coastal waters to breed in spring and summer. Females only breed once, and die soon after laying up to 4,000 eggs, which are around 8-10 mm in diameter and known as ‘sea grapes’. They take up to two months to hatch. Males live longer, and breed more than once. Cuttlefish can attain body lengths of up to 45 cm and weigh up to 4 kg, although typically 20-30 cm and 1-2 kg is normal.

Stock information

Stock Area


Stock information

There is currently no assessment of cuttlefish stocks by ICES in North East Atlantic. It is a non-pressure or unprotected species, i.e. not subject to quota restrictions. Although estimates of the total population size do not exist, attempts at stock assessment in the English Channel, the main UK fishery area, suggested they were probably fully fished. In spite of some overfishing, there was no indication that the species was at risk. Since 2006 landings from the English Channel have remained high, suggesting they are being exploited at sustainable levels. However, increases in market value and quota restrictions on other target species have increased fishing effort on cuttlefish. In recent years landings of cuttlefish have contributed substantially towards the income from mixed trawl fisheries in the southwest. There are two main components to the fishery, a mid-channel and an inshore fishery.The total value of the mid -channel fishery in 2011 was 8.8 million. Further research is recommended regarding population trends, distribution, life history traits and threats impacting the species. Ocean acidification caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is potentially a threat to all cuttlefish.


There are no specific managment measures for cuttlefish.

Capture Information

In the UK the English Channel is the main fishing ground for the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) where their abundance is highly and seasonally variable. It is targeted commercially by a variety of fishing methods in seasonal fisheries providing one of the highest cephalopod yields in the north-east Atlantic. It is also taken as a valuable bycatch in demersal fisheries, using otter and beam trawls. Towed fishing gear, particularly beam trawling, is often associated with substantial damage to seabed flora and fauna and with non-target bycatch and the discarding of juvenile fish. The use of square mesh panel in the belly of the trawl will, however, significantly reduce the quantity of unwanted fish and damage to benthos with no detrimental effect on the retention of cuttlefish. In recent years, landings of cuttlefish have contributed substantially towards the annual earnings from mixed trawl fisheries in the southwest. Increases in its market value and quota restrictions on other target species have directed fishing effort towards cuttlefish fisheries that are not currently subject to management measures. Cuttlefish are caught by inshore otter trawlers off the coasts of Dorset and Devon in late summer and autumn before they migrate offshore to the overwintering grounds.