Editor's Note: William Gilly, a professor of biology at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, embarked on new expedition this month to study jumbo squid in the Gulf of California on the National Science Foundation –funded research vessel New Horizon. This is his tenth blog post about the trip.

GUAYMAS—The previous post was an overall summary of thoughts at the end of this cruise after the final frantic days of around-the-clock experiments followed up by packing and stowing everything to make room for the next science party that will depart from Guaymas less than 24 hours after our arrival. Perhaps these thoughts at the end do not seem so different from those at the start of the cruise. This 2011 cruise has reinforced some hypotheses that we had at its start, and it has shown us that recovery from a system-wide perturbation is much slower than the initial response. And it has led to many more questions, and this is really the way research progresses. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more."

A personally valuable part of this cruise has been meeting and working with young researchers who are just setting out on this voyage we call science. There were several graduate and undergraduate students on board, all of whom worked hard and fully participated.  I've mentioned them individually in several posts, but I'd like to thank them on the record for their valuable contributions—Neal MacIntosh, Tanya Chesney and David Cade from Oregon State, Elizabeth Hogan from the New Hampshire Community College System, Ian Wilson from Colorado State University, Hannah Rosen and Patrick Daniel from Stanford, and Stephanie Bush, a postdoctoral fellow from University of Rhode Island. The humor and camaraderie they inject into a research cruise is hard to describe. 

And then there is Ted Uyeno, currently a postodoctoral researcher at Northern Arizona University. I met Ted in 2009 when we worked together on a Critter-cam project with the National Geographic Remote Imaging Program. Ted provided many of the photos posted in this blog, and I am grateful for that help.  But more than that, Ted is simply a great person to work with. He has an upbeat spirit that is truly indefatigable—even a blast of squid ink to the face won't put him off. Ted will soon leave ft Arizona for a faculty position at Valdosta State. There are some lucky students in Georgia who will soon also get to know Ted's enthusiasm and generosity.

Finally, the crew of the New Horizon can't be thanked enough. It was to an honor to work with them all, and we all leave the ship grateful, feeling like we are sharing good byes with family. They have taken care of us well.

Another important impact of the 2009-2010 El Niño is an increased awareness by the commercial fishing sector of the ecological balances and environmental influences that are intimately involved with and ultimately control the squid fishery in Mexico. The town of Santa Rosalia has been without its major revenue source for a year. Squid buyers and packers in Guaymas have been searching the Gulf in vain for six months to maintain delivery of their product.

But this economic stress has resulted in an exciting development, spearheaded by Juan Pedro Vela Arreola of the Allianza de Ribereños y Armadores, an association of squid producers in Mexico. We met Pedro in February when we had another brief research cruise that yielded only three squid caught in a week of constant searching. How could things change so radically in such a short time? That is a question that both we, as scientists, and Pedro, as a businessman, are grappling with. Pedro proposed the idea of bringing together all interested stakeholders from the commercial sector, scientific institutions, government and NGO's to look for answers and to ensure a stable, sustainable product.

So after the cruise we eagerly attended the First International Congress on Jumbo Squid in Guaymas at the Hotel Playa de Cortes, a timeless place out of the 1950's.

This symposium brought together about 100 biologists, food scientists, squid processors, product developers-manufacturers and representatives from government and non-governmental agencies. Technical talks were given by researchers on a variety of subjects ranging from squid population dynamics and behavior to the use of squid byproducts in the aquaculture industry and developing new value-added consumer-products. Half-day workshops were also held by biologists and food scientists, and each group outlined what it felt needed to be done to further the knowledge base concerning squid in a way that would guarantee a sustainable fishery and stable delivery of high-quality products.

The biology group meeting was attended by representatives of the academic institutions CIAD (Sonora), CIBNOR (La Paz), CICESE (Ensenada), ECOSUR (Campeche), ITG (Guaymas), Stanford (CA), UNISON (Hermosillo) and UNAM (Mexico City).  Representatives of Mexican fishery agencies (INP, INAPESCA, CONAPESCA), non-governmental agencies (WWF, EDF-Mexico, NOVAOCEANO) and the Sistema Producto Calamar Nacional also participated.

A number of important areas for future research and monitoring efforts were discussed, and the working group established the following committee and subcommittees to continue discussions and planning in the future:

Comité Técnico Nacional de Investigación de Calamar Gigante

(National Technical Committee for Research on Jumbo Squid)

President: Enrique Morales-Bojo quez, CIBNOR, La Paz, BCS

Secretary: Manuel O. Nevárez-Martínez, INAPESCA, Guaymas, SON

Stock Assessment Subcomittee: Oscar Sosa-Nishisaki, CICESE, Ensenada, BC

Environment and Ecology: César Salinas-Zavala, CIBNOR, La Paz, BCS

Monitoring: Dana Isela Arizmendi-Rodríguez, ITG, Guaymas, SON

Industry: Manuel Aguilar Juarez, Sistema Producto Nacional, Guaymas, SON

Communications and Outreach: Unai Markaida, ECOSUR, Campeche,

                            William Gilly, Stanford University, CA, USA

What develops out of this meeting and committee will be as intriguing to monitor as the state of recovery by the squid after El Niño. But the group dynamic and true emergence will have to will have to be built step by step.  An important start will be the revisiting of a Draft Squid Fishery Management Plan put together by WWF, and Enrique Morales-Bojo quez, who worked on the original draft, will be leading this effort. Individual subcommittees will also be putting together sets of specific aims and recommendations for how to go about achieving them. Communications and Outreach will be responsible for website development, announcements and press releases, assembling a database of publications, and creating materials for the general public, fishing communities and educational institutions. We will work with Sistema Producto Calamar Nacional in these efforts. Hopefully this challenge will serve to improve my practically non-existent Spanish with help from my collaborator over the last decade, Unai Markaida.

Of course, the big question will be funding—as always. It will take not only coordination and cooperation by all participants but an infusion of significant funds as well. The work of this committee cannot simply rely on good will and the funding of individual participants on the long-term. Some agency or consortium will have to step up to the plate—perhaps a combination of federal and state governmental agencies and conservation-focused NGO's. 

As this last El Niño has taught us, there are great economic and ecological issues concerning the squid that we need to care about. Every bit of new information no matter how esoteric, every new technical insight no matter how minor, and any look whatsoever with new eyes will serve to move things closer to a deeper understanding of the Gulf and its inhabitants. The lives of humans and squid are intertwined; they are in many ways one.

     "And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn't terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the Japanese shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region. That isn't very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is."  J. Steinbeck and E.F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez, 1941

Our work here is done for now but just starting.

Photo credits:

Elizabeth Hogan and Hannah Rosen processing squid sample: Ted Uyeno, Northern Arizona University

Ted Uyeno with squid ink: Chad Waluk, Oregon State University

Santa Rosalia and Tres VIrgenes: Ted Uyeno, Northern Arizona University

Pelicans at sunset: Ted Uyeno, Northern Arizona University