Cuttlefish

Sepia officinalis

Cuttlefish

Image | illustration by Marc Dando copywrite Seafish

Description

Cuttlefish are related to squid and octopus and are predatory intelligent animals that are actively targeted by fisheries in the English channel. The copious quantities of black ink produced by cuttlefish are sometimes used in cooking and the flesh of cuttlefish is high in protein and a good alternative to calamari.


Sustainability Overview

Cuttlefish are caught in the English channel by trawlers, netters and in a directed trap fishery. Their populations are poorly studied but indications are that this species is being fished to its maximum capacity.  There is no restriction on catches and trawlers targeting deep water aggregations may damage stocks as they remove cuttlefish before they have had a chance to reproduce. Cuttle fish caught in pots are more likely to have already had a chance to reproduce so pot caught is preferable to trawl caught, particularly from fisheries where eggs are left on pots so that they are able to hatch naturally rather than removed by fishermen. 

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When is best to eat?

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Demersal Trawl

Cornwall areas VIIe-h

Demersal trawls are large nets that are pulled through the water with the bottom edge of the net touching the seabed. At each edge the net is pulled open by metal ‘trawl doors’. Sometimes referred to as Otter trawling.

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Beam Trawling

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Beam trawls are nets with a steel beam that holds the net open. The belly of the net is made of chains and the upper surface of the net is mesh. Beam trawlers pull two nets along the seabed simultaneously.

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How we rate fish

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Sustainability Overview

Cuttlefish are caught in the English channel by trawlers, netters and in a directed trap fishery. Their populations are poorly studied but indications are that this species is being fished to its maximum capacity.  There is no restriction on catches and trawlers targeting deep water aggregations may damage stocks as they remove cuttlefish before they have had a chance to reproduce. Cuttle fish caught in pots are more likely to have already had a chance to reproduce so pot caught is preferable to trawl caught, particularly from fisheries where eggs are left on pots so that they are able to hatch naturally rather than removed by fishermen. 

Cuttlefish

Biology

Cuttlefish belong to a specialised group of molluscs, known as cephalopods, which also includes octopus and squid. Cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles, like squid, but differ from other cephalopods by the presence of an internal skeletal/buoyancy structure, the cuttle bone, actually an internal chalky shell, which is often found washed up on beaches (and fed to budgies). Cuttlefish are awesome predators that prey on crustaceans such as prawns and crabs. Cuttlefish only live for up to two years in UK waters with some individuals living for only one year depending on temperatures. Cuttlefish will only spawn once in their lives investing all their energy into producing a single batch of large well developed eggs. After overwintering in deeper waters, cuttlefish move into shallow coastal waters to breed. Spawning is gregarious with eggs being laid between February and May (peaking mid-April to mid-May). At this time male cuttles will travel long distances looking for females - a tendency that is exploited by fishermen who bait their pots with female cuttles or white plastic lures that will attract opportunistic males. Females only breed once, and die soon after laying up to 4,000 eggs, which are around 8-10mm in diameter and known as 'sea grapes'. The eggs take up to two months to hatch and well developed hatchlings (5mm long) emerge as tiny predators capable of eating a shrimp as large as themselves on the day they hatch. Cuttlefish can attain body lengths of up to 45cm and weigh up to 4kg, although typically 20-30cm and 1-2kg is normal.

Stock Info

According to MMO data landings of cuttlefish to Cornish ports fluctuate between 200 and 800 tonnes each year. There is currently no formal assessment of cuttlefish stocks in our area and it is a non quota species. 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. 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.

Management

This is an open access fishery with no quota or minimum landing size.  
Apart from measures controlling cod-end mesh size of trawls that affords a limited protection for small cuttlefish, there are no other specific management measures in place. Trawling for cuttlefish targets overwintering stocks which havent had a chance to breed so risks recruitment overfishing. 

Capture Info

The majority of the catch of cuttlefish landed by Cornish boats to Cornish ports are caught using trawls. Purpose built cuttle pots are used to trap cuttlefish in shallow coastal waters in Devon, Dorset and further up the channel but these are rarely used in Cornish waters as the populations of cuttles here are lower. 

References

MMO landings data
Seafish responsible sourcing guides Cuttlefish 2014 v2 
Fishonline
Project inshore pre assessment database
 

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