Squid games on the high seas as U.S. Coast Guard monitors Chinese fishing vessels

The primary target of China’s fishing industry is the giant squid, also known as the Humboldt squid, which is among the species managed by SPRFMO. Global demand for giant squid, the most abundant marine invertebrate in the southeastern Pacific, is increasing because of its high nutritional value and because 75 percent of the animal can be used for food.

“Many people think of these giant squid as a renewable resource because they reproduce very frequently and very quickly,” Valentine said. “But the problem is when you have these hot spots of very intense fishing, they’re not able to have that quick reproduction and quick turnaround.”

It’s difficult to know exactly how many giant squid are in the ocean and how well they’re doing, Valentine said, with scientists relying mainly on catch data from fishing vessels to determine how much is being removed. But if current trends continue, she said, it’s possible they could disappear entirely. 

A ‘floating Manhattan’

China’s squid jiggers gather just over 200 miles from the coast of Peru, where international waters begin. 

“They always stay the same distance,” Lt. Cmdr. Luis Monte, 42, of the Peruvian Navy said in October as he flew a twin-turboprop plane over a fleet of hundreds of Chinese vessels. 

The five-man crew flew low over the ships, watching as they pointed massive lights at the water to attract giant squid. After the creatures gather under the shaded area underneath the ships, they are caught using barbless lures on fishing lines that are jigged up and down in the water by machines. This is why the vessels are known as “squid jiggers.”

The crew said that at night the lights can make the fleet appear like a city on the water, a floating Manhattan.

“When they catch the squid they return to the mother ships, and the mother ships return to China,” Monte said. “It’s really bad because they affect our fishermen.”

The U.S. has made it a priority to help countries such as Peru police their coastlines. “We want to see the rules-based order upheld,” the Coast Guard’s Ledbetter said.


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