Sepia officinalis

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


Picture of Cuttlefish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

There are no reference points to determine if cuttlefish are in a healthy state. Though a recent stock assessment show mixed trends in their abundance and a decreasing exploitation rate. Therefore, there is some concern for biomass, but fishing mortality is not of concern.

Despite cuttlefish being a high value species and their landing increasing dramatically, there is little management in place to protect the species.

There are several species of cuttlefish found in UK and French waters, though, the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis are most commonly caught. France and the UK catch the majority (around 80%) of cuttlefish in the North-East Atlantic.

France generally employs increased management to protect the species.

They are usually targeted in trawls or and as bycatch in demersal fisheries. However, artisanal fisheries use proportionately more highly selective gear types including spears, pots, and traps, which generally pose a reduced risk to bycatch and the habitat than the trawling methods.

Cuttlefish is frequently marketed as fresh and frozen and is a highly attractive food item in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Spain.

Choose cuttlefish caught in inshore waters (caught in an IFCA district) or French waters as they generally are protected by better management. Choose cuttlefish caught using pot or creel.


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 grapesa. 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: 0.5 info

Stock Area


Stock information

A recent stock assessment by Alemany (2017) assessed three data-limited indicators to measure the Channel cuttlefishas biomass and fishing mortality. The first indicator (abundance indicies from bottom trawl survey) shows a decreasing trend in biomass between 2002 to 2014; the second indicator (Spawning stock biomass data estimated using landings per Unit Effort (LPUE) data) shows no clear trend and the third shows an increasing trend (a parameter measuring growth rates in biomass) between 2008 to 2011. Therefore, there are mixed biomass trends, however, the fishery independent survey showed a negative trend and therefore, there is concern for biomass. The exploitation rate decreasing and therefore no concern for fishing mortality. Therefore, there is no concern for fishing mortality.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

Cuttlefish are a data-limited species in the UK and there are limited manangement measures in place to protect the species. France generally employs more management measures to protect cuttlefish, than implemented in UK waters, though the efficacy of those measures may not be fully effective, which is discussed in further detail below.

Cuttlefish are non-quota species but the Spring trawling season is generally open from April to June each year.< Specific authorisation is needed to trawl for cuttlefish (under the framework of the “Direction Regionale des Affaires Maritimes”) within 3nm of the coast, however, there is an exemption for two weeks at the end of summer where fishers can target juveniles. br>
French fish markets sort landings by commercial categories, where the smallest cuttlefish size is 0.1 to 0.3 kg (or 8-9 cm) (EU Regulation 2406/96) which acts as a proxy for a minimum landing size. However, cutteflish generally mature later than this, 14cm DML (males) and 18cm DML (females).

Fishing effort is not regulated and varies depending on migration of the adults, however, there is a restriction on the numbers of pot and trap fishing licences for the possibility to fish within 3nm of the coast. Only small vessels with a length less than 12 meters can have a licence, with a maximum of 500 traps per vessel.

Mesh size regulations for trawlers depend on the those applied to the finfish stocks, which requires either a minimum mesh size of 80 mm or 100 mm. The 80mm mesh doesnat effectively reduce bycatch, so further mitigation measures are dependent on the skipper.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) allow some protection to spawning cuttlefish and juveniles (before they become migratory) from towed gear, although the efficiency of this is uncertain. However, MPAs do not offer further protection to cuttlefish than for spawning, as they are a migratory species.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Demersal otter trawling is not a well-targeted gear: non-target species may include soles, plaice, monkfish and skates and rays. The minimum mesh size is not sufficient to protect many of these non-target species. Bycatch can include Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species and there are prohibitions are in place for protected species such as common skate.


Abecasis, D., Afonso, P., OaDor, R. K., & Erzini, K. (2013). Small MPAs do not protect cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Fisheries research, 147, 196-201.

Alemany, J., Rivot, E., Foucher, E., Vigneau, J., & Robin, J. P. (2017). A Bayesian two-stage biomass model for stock assessment of data-limited species: An application to cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) in the English Channel. Fisheries Research, 191, 131-143.

European Market Observatory for Market Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA)(2017) Monthly Highlights. Brussels: European Commission, Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, p 1-3.

Gras, M., Roel, B. A., Coppin, F., Foucher, E., & 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), 2457-2468

ICES (2018) Interim Report of the Working Group on Cephalopod Fisheries and Life History (WGCEPH), 6-9 June 2017, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. ICES CM 2017/SSGEPD:12. 132 pp.

Mion, M., Piras, C., Giovanardi, O. (2014). Dinamiche di crescita di Mullus Barbatus L., 1758 e Sepia officinalis L., 1758 in relazione al fermo pesca biologico. (Growth dynamics of Mullus Barbatus L., 1758 and Sepia officinalis L., 1758 in relation to the summer trawling ban). Conference paper. 45 degrees Congresso della Societa Italiana di Biologia Marina. Venezia.

Wang, J., Pierce, G.J., Boyle, P.R., Denis, V., Robin, J.P., Bellido, J.M., 2003. Spatial and temporal patterns of cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) abundance and environmental influences: a case study using trawl fishery data in French Atlantic coastal, English Channel, and adjacent waters. ICES Journal of Marine Science 60:1149-1158.