Squid, Argentine short fin

Illex argentinus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Jig
Capture area — South West Atlantic (FAO 41)
Stock area — Argentine and Falkland Is EEZs & adjacent high seas
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Squid, Argentine short fin

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Argentine shortfin squid is a short-lived and fast growing species and is classed as having low vulnerability, yet it is a very valuable predator and prey species. The fishery is the second largest squid fishery in the world. It operates in Argentinean, the Falkland Island seas and on the High Seas. For effective management, there is a need for cooperation between all main participating countries. However, since 2005, no multilateral management has existed, leading to overfishing of some stocks. Squid populations fluctuate dramatically with environmental variability so it is difficult calculate their population size. There is a growing popularity to forecast the stock status of Argentine shortfin squid so that management can be more planned.

Jigging is a selective method of fishing yet the vessels employ approx 150 intense lights to attract the squid at night (visible from space) and there is potential for this to impact on endangered and threatened seabird species in the region. The Faulkland Islands caught record highs of over 300,000t in 2015 due to optimal oceanographic conditions which is reportedly worth 45m to the Faulkland Island’s economy. Though, more recently, stocks have plummeted.


Illex argentinus is a short lived species (between 1 and 2 years) of squid that is primarily found around the slope of the continental shelf in the southwest Atlantic Ocean. It can be found in the open ocean (epipelagic to mesopelagic), from the surface to about 800m depth off the coasts of Brazil, Argentina and the Falkland Islands (approximately 30 degrees S to 50 degrees S). In autumn and winter (April to September) it is abundant on the lower shelf (50 to 200m depth). The species is fast growing and short-lived, reaching sexual maturity within one year. The species reproduces once in its lifetime via internal fertilisation (spawning between December and March), laying egg cases on the sea floor. Maximum mantle length is 33 cm; sexual maturity is reached at a total length of about 24 cm and total length averages about 40cm in the summer following spawning. The species forms extremely dense aggregations, and is captured in fisheries by the tonne . I. argentinus are active predators of fishes such as juvenile hakes, pelagic crabs and shrimps; and themselves form important prey for a wide range of marine life including fin fishes, seabirds (including locally endangered and vulnerable albatross and petrels), sharks and cetaceans .

Stock information

Stock Area

Argentine and Falkland Is EEZs & adjacent high seas

Stock information

The Falkland Islands have recently been landing very low catches of Illex squid: by April 2016, catches only reached the 2,000 tons mark compared to 170,000 tons at this time in the year previously. Landings of Illex off the South American coast in 2015 were 126,500 tonnes, about 25% down on 2014 landings. However, Argentinian stocks are reportedly doing better.

There are four tentative Argentine shortfin squid stocks in this region: they travel of vast areas throughout their lifespan, and through various jurisdictions. The status of the main stocks of I. argentinus are assessed by the Argentina National Institute of Fisheries Research and Development (INIDEP) using real-time (weekly) observer sampling throughout the fishing season. This is a common approach employed for species which are fast growing and short-lived and can have large fluctuations in abundance from year to year. The stock is assessed and managed in terms of the squid that is left behind each season, as opposed to a total allowable catch. A biomass reference point (called Bescapement) has been developed and is set at 40% escapement i.e. where 40% of the population is not fished so that it can spawn and create next year’s stock.

Historically, the fishery has gone through boom and bust cycles as a result of either overfishing or environmental factors . In the early 1990s I. argentinus was mainly taken as bycatch of the otter trawl fishery for hake, or alternating with the hake fishery off Argentina and Uruguay on the continental shelf in depths between 30 and 200m. Exploitation of the stock rose rapidly following the collapse of the Illex illecebrosus fishery in the 1970s. I. argentinus take increased to over 1,000,000 tonnes in 1999, and then stocks crashed in 2004. Another steady increase to nearly 1,000,000 tonnes in 2007 was followed by a second crash in 2009 although environmental conditions are also believed to have played a significant role.

The 2014 squid fishery final report produced by INIDEP indicates that the two major stocks were overfished that year. For the major stock, escapement after the last week’s sampling was 35.8% suggesting moderate overfishing. Another stock had its escapement rate down to 14.6%, suggesting considerable overfishing in 2014.

There are opportunities to forecast squid populations. Forecasting relies on understanding variables such as the previous year’s stock abundance and oceanographic variables such as sea surface temperature (SST). This information will help managers inform their decisions on quotas in forthcoming fishing seasons.


I. argentinus is the second largest (by weight) squid fishery in the world and occurs across multiple jurisdictions of Argentina EEZ, Falkland Islands EEZ and on the high seas - and is accessed by several countries. In 2013, 98% of capture was by five countries: Argentina, Taiwan, China, Republic of Korea and Spain. In recent years, approximately 25 to 35% of the catch has come from within the Falkland Islands territorial zones with the remaining catches coming from both within and just outside the Argentinean EEZ. Roughly a third of catches historically comes from the high seas, beyond the jurisdiction of Argentina and the Falkland Islands and therefore, the Argentinian shortfin squid is considered to be a ‘stradling stock’ as it is fished over multiple jurisdictions.

Joint management is generally acknowledged to be necessary for an ecologically and economically productive fishery, and concerns have been raised about the current lack of joint management.

In both Argentina and Falkland Islands the fishery is supposed to be closed when the escapement threshold (40%escapement) is reached.

Argentina does implement closures based on this threshold, yet this has only been for the smaller component of the fishery North of 44 degrees and does not include the bulk of the fishery which occurs south of this. This has resulted in the biomass being fished beyond the 40% escapement target, as observed in recent years. Additionally, the Argentina National Institute of Fisheries Research and Development (INIDEP) note that there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding catches from foreign fleets operating both within and outside the Argentinean EEZ and there have been numerous claims of significant IUU fishing.

Between 1990 and 2005 there was a constructive bilateral arrangement between the Falkland Islands (UK) and Argentina. This was the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC). The SAFC facilitated the exchange of fisheries data, joint research cruises, joint scientific analyses, and recommended co-ordinated conservation advice to respective governments. In 2004 the Commission raised concerns about the crash in I. argentinus stocks and agreed to recommend that a very precautionary approach should be taken to the conservation of this species. In 2005 Argentina withdrew from the commission following a Falklands decision to grant fishing licences in its waters over a 25-year period, rather than by an annual renewal. As a result, there is no joint management in place and weak political relationships, this has created what is known as the ‘squid wars’.

Joint management and co-operation is essential between nations to ensure populations remain sustainable. A regional fisheries management organisation has been recommended.

The Falkland Islands have recently been landing very low catches of Illex squid: by April 2016, catches only reached the 2,000 tons mark compared to 170,000 tons at this time in the year previously. Landings of Illex off the South American coast in 2015 were 126,500 tonnes, about 25% down on 2014 landings. However, Argentinian stocks are reportedly doing better. El Nino and overfishing are thought to be responsible for subsequent dramatic declines in catches during 2016. Recent studies suggest that an average of 550,000t is recommended for the annual catch for the region.

Capture Information

The overwhelming majority of I. argentinus is caught by large (50-80m in length) jigging vessels with over 90% of the catch from five countries: Argentina, Taiwan, China, Republic of Korea and Spain. Jigs are lures armed with an array of barbless hooks and are fished in series on lines using automatic hauling machines. Squid are attracted to jigging vessels with an array of powerful metal halide, incandescent white and green lights. Large vessels will have approximately 150 lamps. The fishery is on an industrial scale with catches being in the order of 15-30 tonnes per day. To a lesser extent, the species is also landed as byproduct (retained bycatch) in bottom trawl fisheries which can also take up to 40 tonnes per day.

Jigging is a targeted method of fishing with low levels of incidental bycatch, however some concern has been raised over the potential impact of the fishery on locally threatened and endangered seabird populations. The Falkland Islands Illex Jigging Assessment Directive was published in 2004 providing guidance for a thorough assessment of the extent and nature of the incidental catch of seabirds on squid jiggers operating in Falkland waters and the wider Patagonian shelf. The Jigger Directive was assessed by Falklands Conservation in 2006/07. Mortality estimates confirmed earlier fisheries observations that incidental mortality associated with this fishery is minimal as jigging gear is inherently different to that associated with longline and trawl fishing; with jigging it is not the fishing activity itself that is problematic, but the deliberate targeting of seabirds. Reportedly, some fleets deliberately target seabirds for their own consumption on-board, however estimates of the scale of this practice is not well understood. The Falkland Island Fisheries Department have undertaken to act upon any suspicion of targeting seabirds during spot checks (for example, if floating fishing gear was deployed astern or feathers and body parts found aboard) and have provided education materials in multiple languages to the jigging vessels to curb this practice .

Light pollution
The other main potential environmental impact is from light pollution. Squid fleets often employ bright lights to attract squid during night fishing. Such is the brightness of the light produced by vessels jigging for I. argentinus, that the extent and scale of these fisheries can be mapped remotely using satellite imagery, as can be seen by the satellite image from NASA’s Earth Observatory http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Malvinas/. This phenomenon is actually employed by authorities to better monitor the activities of the fleet.

Light pollution from various sources has been reported to attract birds and interfere with migration and nesting behaviour , yet this has not been reported or researched for this fishery. Ship lights have been known to attract and result in the death of seabirds, but there are no reports of this occurring in any significant frequency in this fishery. It is possible though that artificial light on such large scale may disturb nesting behaviour and increase risk of predation on fledglings when taking place in close proximity to seabird colonies. Further research is needed to establish any impacts from light pollution on local seabird populations.

Artificial light may also impact the behaviour of marine life and nutrient cycling in the water column. Many species of plankton undertake a daily vertical migration towards the surface triggered by light cues, which then attracts predators feeding on the plankton. It is hypothesised that intense artificial light at night could interfere or reduce the extent of this daily migration, but further research is needed to support this hypothesis. Finally, due to the light energy used in jig fisheries is comparable to that used in the trawling process.


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