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Bill pits squid fishermen against conservationists

March 26, 2012 |  8:26 am

Conservationists and fishermen are poised for a battle over small fish that have produced abundant catches in recent years.

A bill moving its way through the California Legislature would require the state to leave more small fish in the water for seabirds, whales, dolphins and other natural predators to feed on.

Most of the world's market squid is harvested from California's shallow waters, where they gather in enormous schools each year to mate, deposit their eggs on the seafloor and die.

Cold ocean conditions have drawn them in such numbers lately that fishermen have handily caught their 118,000-ton limit — enough to fill 60 Olympic-size swimming pools — and the state has shut them down early two years running.

Surging demand in China, Japan, Mexico and Europe has boosted prices and launched a fishing frenzy worth more than $70 million a year.

Conservationists say the catches are threatening the foundation of a delicate marine food web. They are pushing for new protections for squid, sardines, anchovies, herring and other small, schooling prey.

Fishermen say a smaller catch would be crippling to them and an industry that depends on the squid pulled from California's waters.


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Photo: A deckhand gathers a net as another squid fishing boat passes. The catch is frozen and shipped to Asia to be processed before it reaches tables in Mexico, Europe and even California. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times