For the artisanal fisherman Gustavo Yañez, setting out in his modest vessel to hunt the jumbo flying squid that roam the deep fathoms of the southeast Pacific is no mere act of subsistence.
It is a spiritual enterprise.
From his dock in Valdivia, in central Chile, he and his intrepid crew begin their day at dusk during the high summer season. As darkness envelops their boat, they venture 25 to 70 miles from shore before dropping their jigs. Luminescence at the tips of these sturdy fishing lines attracts the mighty and aggressive diablo rojo, as the squid is reverentially known.
When caught, the creatures thrash violently aboard the deck, furiously spewing ink that douses the crew, who, clad in protective gear, let the mess roll off.
“It is a way to disconnect,” Mr. Yañez said of these Melvillian nocturnal adventures, “a trip to the psychologist, a daily therapy. To fish is to be privileged to be in contact with the sea, with nature, with living beings, with God.”
Economics, meantime, is such fishers’ temporal guiding star. There is good money in squid, with the price soaring about 40 percent from 2016 to 2019.
A fearsome marine predator so ravenous it is prone even to cannibalism, the jumbo squid can top out at over 100 pounds and 12 feet in length during a life span of only a year or two.
That is a lot of meat for the Asian market in particular, which since 2017 has imported an annual average of about $365 million in squid from Peru and $55 million from Chile.
Climate change, scientists suggest, has been fueling the squid bounty where Chile in particular is concerned.
Two decades ago, South Pacific jumbo squid fishing was a mainstay industry in Peru, but the cephalopod went largely unfished in Chilean waters to the south. Since the early 2000s, the squid’s range has shifted farther and farther down Chile’s 2,700-mile coastline. It has also pulsed farther west into the high seas away from Peruvian shores.
Multiple studies, including one published in Current Biology in March, have found that climate change’s striking impact on the oceans — through warming, acidification, declining oxygen content and shifts in currents — is driving marine-creature territories in a mass shift away from the tropics and toward the poles.
On May 25, Nature Ecology & Evolution published a paper that estimated the average poleward migration rate at 37 miles per decade, while Nature Climate Change published a complementary study that projected that the pace would accelerate with particularly intense velocity among creatures like the jumbo squid that favor lower ocean layers.
“The impacts of climate change and variability are playing out much more dramatically in the ocean than on land,” said Malin Pinsky, an ecologist at Rutgers University, noting that the oceans, which have warmed by nearly one degree Celsius since 1850, absorb 93 percent of the excess heat from industrial output. “It’s a largely unseen and yet incredibly dramatic redistribution of where animals live. Those effects ripple all the way through global trade and to our dinner plates.”
The jumbo squid’s southward shift has been a lifesaver for small-scale Chilean fishermen such as Mr. Yañez, who have suffered major losses as overfishing and, likely, climate change have compromised many important fish stocks.
But the squid’s arrival has also provoked intense domestic conflicts in Chile, including riots, as artisanal fishermen, Mr. Yañez included, have fought with their industrial counterparts over the rights to the catch.
Then there are the international tensions that so often arise as fish stocks migrate.
By crossing international borders in greater numbers and thus exposing itself to new groups of fishers, the jumbo squid population has wound up at risk for overfishing. The Chilean take declined in 2019. In an ideal world, nations would mitigate such risk by coordinating more sustainable fishing practices.
“There is an absolute need for sustainable wild-ocean fisheries, to help feed an increasingly hungry planet,” said Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, “especially the three-plus billion people who depend on the ocean for protein.”
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantees individual countries exclusive economic zones (E.E.Z.s) that extend up to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines and within which nations maintain sole fishing rights. Globally, nearly 90 percent of all wild seafood is caught within the zones.
In mid-March, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, one of about 20 such groups around the world that coordinate sustainable fishing practices in international waters, took the first steps toward establishing a management and conservation agreement between national members for sustainably fishing jumbo squid on the high seas.
While the agreement, which goes into place in January, does not yet stipulate limits on the squid catch, it requires the gathering of data and samples to inform fishery records and vital scientific inquiries into the valuable marine creature.
“Ideally, states should be able to align both in science and management, and the same should apply in international waters,” said Alfonso Miranda, the Lima, Peru-based president of Calamasur, a new industry group that advocates for sustainable jumbo squid fishing.
In a 2018 paper in Science, Dr. Pinsky projected that compared with a scenario of reduced emissions, the current fossil fuel emissions trajectory would result in 23 percent more fish populations crossing international boundaries by 2060.
According to at least the preponderance of international fishing agreements, though, it is as if no such upheaval is underway.
For a paper published in Nature Sustainability in February, Kimberly L. Oremus, a marine policy expert at the University of Delaware, reviewed 127 such agreements and found that not one had language explicitly addressing climate change-driven losses of fishing stocks from exclusive economic zones.
Global fishing regulation is instead predicated on an increasingly outdated concept of fish populations as static in their historical ranges and renewable within national jurisdictions.
Seeking to develop a global model for managing ocean resources in the face of climate change, the Environmental Defense Fund is coordinating a sprawling research effort among South American scientists to better understand the evolution of fisheries within South Pacific’s Humboldt Current, which sweeps north from Chile’s midpoint to southern Ecuador and then flows westward, driving about 20 percent of worldwide fishing.
Kristin Kleisner, a senior scientist at the fund, is testing models that could permit more accurate projections of how the jumbo squid and other marine life within the current will fluctuate from year to year.
The willingness on the part of scientists from Ecuador, Peru and Chile to share data analysis and collaborate on this research front has imbued Dr. Kleisner with optimism that they can make the major strides necessary to best inform sustainable fishing practices in the region.
This cooperation, Dr. Kleisner said, is “actually really amazing because Chile and Peru had a maritime border dispute up until 2014.”
If policies don’t adapt to account for climate change’s effects on fish ranges, the global fishing industry could be thrown progressively into chaos.
Nations, especially those in the tropics, that face fish-stock losses could wind up having minimal incentive to fish sustainably and might tap as much of the resource as they can before it has fully departed. And nations that gain stocks, and thus lack specific agreements with other nations to manage them well, might fish them without respecting U.N. policies that demand sustainable fishing practices worldwide.
In the most famous example of such imbalance, the Northeast Atlantic mackerel that historically swam within a range managed by the European Union, Norway and the Faroe Islands started showing up in the Icelandic E.E.Z. in the mid-2000s. Unbound by a treaty, Icelandic fishers went after the stock without cooperating with the other parties, giving rise to still-simmering tensions known as the Mackerel Wars.
“The worst case is there’s no cooperation and we catch most of the fish that are out there,” Dr. Pinsky said of the future of global fishing regulation.
“And the last century of sustainable fisheries management goes out the window. In the best case, fisheries may become a bit less productive. And any given country will catch different species. But there will still be fisheries; they’ll still feed millions of people, and provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.”
As for Mr. Yañez, the Chilean squid fisherman, he prays that sustainability measures will keep alive a tradition that runs deep in his blood. He envisions a day when his children and grandchildren will suit up and take to the night waters in search of a rich bounty of squid drawn from the mysterious fathoms below.