Cuttlefish

Sepia officinalis

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel Inshore: French Waters (0-3nm)
Stock detail — 7d, 7e, 7f, 7g, 7h
Picture of Cuttlefish

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: January 2020.

This stock is data limited. Cuttlefish are a migratory species, and there are no defined stock areas or formal stock assessments available. From 2008 to 2017, landings of cuttlefish to UK ports nearly doubled and a number of studies are in agreement that the English Channel cuttlefish population is either fully or over exploited. At present, there is limited management measures and there is no total allowable catch (TAC) quota. In France, there is a minimum landing weight of 0.1 - 0.3kg, which acts as a proxy Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) (8-9cm), but this is smaller than the size of maturity (14-18cm). Cuttlefish in this area benefit from some local management and from more general laws that regulate trawling. Beam trawling is not a well-targeted gear and there is a high amount of bycatch. Bottom trawling also has the potential to cause significant habitat damage.

Biology

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

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area

English Channel Inshore: French Waters (0-3nm)

Stock information

This stock is data limited. Cuttlefish are a migratory species, and there are no defined stock areas or formal stock assessments available. Cuttlefish in the English Channel are fished mainly by France and the UK. Whilst originally dominated by France, in 2017, UK landings represented 55% of the total catch. Inshore exploitation is managed by local rules, however, no EU regulations apply to the whole stock.

From 2008 to 2017, landings of cuttlefish to UK ports nearly doubled and a number of studies are in agreement that the English Channel cuttlefish population is either fully or over exploited. Surveys suggest that the biomass is decreasing in the eastern English Channel with the ICES WGCEPH Report 2018 stating that the 2017 biomass index is the lowest on record. Beam and otter trawl fisheries have experienced a large increase in the amount of cuttlefish landed per vessel over the last 10 years. However, the inshore trap fisheries are experiencing large reductions in catch rate by over 50%. Landings in the northwest English Channel in summer 2017 were particularly high - likely owing to overfishing rather than high abundance. Overall, biomass is declining and fishing pressure is increasing so there is concern for both biomass and fishing pressure.

Management

Criterion score: 1 info

At present, there is limited management for cuttlefish in the English Channel. There is no total allowable catch (TAC) meaning that fishers can land any amount of cuttlefish. No EU regulations apply to this stock despite its importance in terms of landings and value. In France, there is a minimum landing weight of 0.1 - 0.3kg, which acts as a proxy Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) (8-9cm), but this is smaller than the size of maturity (14-18cm). Cuttlefish in this area benefit from some local management and from more general laws that regulate trawling. However, there is still an overall lack of management and this is particularly problematic as cuttlefish are targeted both in their coastal spawning grounds in their pre-adult stage and in off-shore deep water.

There is a ban on using mesh size <80mm in otter trawl nets and on operating inside 3 nautical miles inshore. However, there are exceptions to the ban on operating with 3nm. In 1993, spatial limits to cuttlefish trawling were introduced to protect nursery areas of a multitude of species, particularly spider crabs. This means that in spring, trawlers are allowed to exploit spawners for 6 weeks, and in summer, trawlers are allowed to exploit hatchlings for 2 weeks. The exact dates are adjusted every year as a function of the probability of the arrival of cuttlefish, indicated by the volume of landings in the previous autumn or the landings of the trap fishery (a small fishery that supplies the French market).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Offshore trawling accounts for the majority of cuttlefish caught in the English Channel. A total of around 65-75% of the cuttlefish catch in UK waters is taken by beam trawlers. Beam trawling is not a well-targeted gear and there is a high amount of bycatch. Previous studies have shown that typical catches when targeting cuttlefish include monkfish, flatfish species (soles, plaice, brill, turbot etc.), gurnards, invertebrates (such as urchins and starfishes), catsharks and crabs. Bycatch may also include endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, including demersal elasmobranchs.

Bottom trawling has the potential to cause significant impact to habitat, such as removing or destroying physical features and reducing biota and habitat complexity. Therefore, the recovery time of the seabed after trawling varies greatly, and depends on the fishing gear, the substrate, intensity of the trawl and how accustomed the seabed is to natural disturbance.

References

Gras, M., Roel, B.A., Coppin, F., Foucher, E. and Robin, J-P. 2014. A two-stage biomass model to assess the English Channel cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis L.) stock. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71(9), pp.2457-2468. Available at https://academic.oup.com/icesjms/article/71/9/2457/594946 [Accessed on 05.02.2020].

ICES. 2019. Interim Report of the Working Group on Cephalopod Fisheries and Life History (WGCEPH), 5-8 June 2018, Pasaia, San Sebastian, Spain. ICES CM 2018/EPDSG:12. 194 pp. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/EPDSG/2018/WGCEPH%20-%20Report%20of%20the%20Working%20Group%20on%20Cephalopod%20Fisheries%20and%20Life%20History.pdf [Accessed on 05.02.2020].

ICES. 2016. Report of the Working Group on Cephalopod Fisheries and Life History (WGCEPH),14-17 June 2016, ICES Headquarters, Copenhagen, Denmark. ICES CM 2016/SSGEPD:03. Available at https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00377/48775/49173.pdf [Accessed on 05.02.2020].

Davies, D. and Nelson, K. 2018. Supporting Sustainable Sepia Stocks. Report 1: The biology and ecology of the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Sussex IFCA. Available at https://secure.toolkitfiles.co.uk/clients/34087/sitedata/files/Research/1-Cuttlefish-biology-and-ecology.pdf [Accessed on 05.02.2020].

Davies, D. and Nelson, K. 2018. Supporting Sustainable Sepia Stocks. Report 2: The English Channel fishery for common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Sussex IFCA. Available at https://secure.toolkitfiles.co.uk/clients/34087/sitedata/files/Research/2-English-Channel-fishery-for-cuttlefish.pdf [Accessed on 05.02.2020].

Davies, D. and Nelson, K. 2018. Supporting Sustainable Sepia Stocks. Report 3: Assessing the efficacy of egg receptors within fishing traps used to target common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Sussex IFCA. Available at https://secure.toolkitfiles.co.uk/clients/34087/sitedata/files/Research/3-Efficacy-of-egg-receptors.pdf [Accessed on 05.02.2020].