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Cuttlefish

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Cuttlefish

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 an  alternative to calamari. This 'black gold' is becoming increasingly important to the Cornish trawling fleet but there are questions over the sustainability of this poorly regulated fishery.

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 cuttlefish has been caught in large quantities in recent years especially the winter of 2017 when over £3 million of cuttlefish were landed to Newlyn. Trawlers target deep water aggregations of overwintering cuttles and remove cuttlefish before they are fully grown and have had a chance to reproduce.

Cuttles are also targetted in spring and summer in shallow coastal waters using pots where they congregate to spawn. There are no limits on catch of cuttlefish, there is no minimum size or closed areas.  Pot caught cuttles are the best choice available in terms of sustainability but due to the far larger trawl fishery for this species even pot caught cannot be considered sustainable at this time as cuttle stocks are  unmanaged and over fished.  

Updated March 2020

Sustainability ratings for this species

Potting

Cornwall inshore waters (inside 6nm)

Cuttlefish traps are large baited traps, although they are rarely used in Cornwall this is the most sustainable method of catching cuttlefish.

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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

Cornwall areas VIIe-h

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

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.

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. This species is classed as having Medium species resilience with Sealifebase.org saying its vulnerability score is .3

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. ICES Working Group on Cephalopods Report 2018 describes well documented declines in cuttlefish abundance reorded between 2006 and 2018 by the Channel Ground Fish Survey  In their 2020 report ICES says that for cuttlefish in area 7d and 7e, there was a downward trend in estimated biomass between 2015 and 2018, with the 2018 estimate being below BMSY, while F was above FMSY in 2017 and 2018. Exeptionally high landings of the Devon coast over the winter of 2017 are harder to explain but according to ICES are 'likey to indicate overfishing'. Landings in 2018 in inshore areas were significantly lower than previous years after the winter trawling bonanza. Increases in market value and quota restrictions on other target species have increased fishing effort on cuttlefish.  A CEFAS report published in 2020 shows that a significant portion of the landings of trawlers are of undersized cuttles that have not had a chance to reproduce. 

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 haven't had a chance to breed, risking 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, and in 2019 have been used in fairly large numbers in Cornwall in both Mounts bay and St Ives bay. 

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