THE Loligo ‘X’ squid licence season has been closed early in the Falkland Islands fishery. Fishing companies say they will be seeking licence fee refunds but a Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly has indicated that a refund is unlikely.
The decision to close the fishery was undertaken because scientific survey results have revealed the lowest winter pre-season survey biomass estimates since 2008 – a total of 19,859 tonnes.
In a joint press release from the Falkland Islands Fisheries Companies Association (FIFCA) and the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department (FIFD) it was outlined that FIFD conducted a pre-season survey for the winter Loligo ‘X’ licence season, working in partnership with local companies.
However despite the fishing industry agreeing with the reasons for closure this will have a significant impact on the fishing sector over the coming months and possibly years.
A loss of 25% of fishing effort in any given calendar year or 50% of the second season in this case will be a substantial blow, but that it comes in the most important fishery is even more significant commented FIFCA Executive Secretary James Bates.
He said combined with other factors such as continued high bunker prices, levels of global supply-chain inflation not experienced for decades and high borrowing interest rates added to an already challenging environment, particularly at a time when around 20% of the Loligo fleet was currently or was about to be renewed at substantial capital cost of about £100m+.
He added that when those factors were accumulated, it was highly likely that 2023 would see a downturn in profitability and tax payments from the sector and that FIFCA was currently “working with our membership to better understand this.
“Once we have done that, we would be seeking further engagement with FIG on behalf of the Association to discuss what can be agreed in terms of licence fee refunds for this lost fishing period.”
MLA Barkman
Speaking to Penguin News MLA Teslyn Barkman said: “Refunds for conservation reasons have no statutory footing in regards to ITQ fisheries. In the last occasions where closures have happened for conservation reasons nothing was refunded. Members have not been engaged in a discussion on the matter.”
On July 2016 vessels began the fishing season, with catches regularly monitored by both local companies and the scientific team at FIFD.
The catches from the start of the season showed a consistent decline in the estimated available biomass. On August 22 the FIFD issued a seven day notice to all vessels that the biomass was forecast to fall below the conservation threshold of 10,000 tonnes and that as a result, the season would be closed early on the August 29.
According to FIFCA and FIFD alongside the notice to vessels, a meeting with companies was held and daily updates commenced. The biomass estimates continued to fall, resulting in the closure,“to maintain the conservation threshold within the Loligo fishery, thereby ensuring the future sustainability of the fishery.”
FIFD, working in partnership with the fishing industry, is undertaking a 14 day scientific survey following the end of the season to monitor stock levels and collect further data about the fishery it was noted in the press release.
It continues: “Similar situations were last seen in 2015 and 2019 and a collaborative approach between FIFD and the fishing industry will help build on the understanding of what factors influence both the biomass levels and distribution of squid within the fishery.”
Loligo Operators noted the very early closure of the 2023 second Loligo fishing season (29th August), with slightly less than half the season completed was declared earlier than the two previous closures September 8/9 in 2015 & 2019 respectively, and that the decision was taken after consultation with industry due to stock management reasons. It was accepted that catches were down 36% when compared to the same period last year.