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Marine Scientists Call for Urgent Ministerial Action on Angel Sharks

3rd May 2019
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Endangered species – Angel Shark Endangered species – Angel Shark Photo: Dr Kevin Flannery

Angel shark are in such a perilous state of decline in Irish waters that a group of marine environmentalists has appealed for urgent action by Minister for Fisheries Michael Creed writes Lorna Siggins

Sharks, rays and skates are the most threatened seafish in Europe, and several species of shark caught in Irish waters are on the “red list” of endangered species issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, the marine scientists say that inaction by the State over the fragile angel shark populations in Kerry’s Tralee Bay and Mayo’s Clew Bay in particular has compounded the situation.

The Irish Elasmobranch Group is a not for profit grouping of scientists and researchers chaired by Dr Kevin Flannery of Dingle, Co Kerry.

It is focused on protecting Ireland’s elasmobranchs – as in sharks, rays, skates and any cartilaginous fishes with five to seven gill openings on each side.

Angel shark - so named because their fins resemble angelic wings- hunt in sandy shallow bays, and have the ability to hide in the sand as they wait for flatfish to eat.

Declining numbers have prompted the scientists to set up a working group, involving the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland among others.

The spurdog, porbeagle shark and angel shark are “critically endangered”, while the basking shark is “endangered”, and the shortfin mako, blue shark and hammerhead shark are “vulnerable”

The group has called on Mr Creed to revise legislation to ensure there is no targeted fisheries of any elasmobranchs permitted in Irish waters, either by commercial vessels or by sea anglers.

Last year, a Spanish fishing vessel, Virxen da Blanca (italics) was detained in Irish waters with over 168,000 kilos of “bycatch” shark on board while “ fishing for tuna”.

A special sitting of Clonakilty District Court last September heard the vessel had 164,250kg of blue shark, 98kg of mako shark and 1,250kg of shark fins on board.

Shark fins can fetch a high price in Asia, where they are used in sharkfin soup. The fins are often removed while the shark is still alive and it can then no longer swim effectively and either suffocates or is eaten by other predators.

The scientists say that the maximum permitted “bycatch” of elasmobranch species should be set at 30% of catch onboard, for all EU vessels fishing in Irish waters.

 

 

It also says that rays and skates should be excluded from discard regulations on landing all by-catch. Instead, these fish should be returned to sea where their survival rate can be still quite high – unlike many finfish.

The group says Ireland should request that the EU ensure that the shortfin mako shark is listed as a prohibited species. Currently there are no limits to shortfin mako sharks being caught in EU waters and they do not even have to be logged as such.

It has asked Mr Creed to enact “clear and firm legislation for the increased protection of sharks in Irish waters”.

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spokesman said Mr Creed supported all five of the group’s recommendations, but believed that a bycatch of all of these species should be “considerably lower” than the 30 per cent proposed.

The group did not make “any specific proposal” relating to the angel shark, but Mr Creed would be happy to consider same in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the spokesman said.

The department said that both it and the Marine Institute are working on “ways to improve the protection of the critically endangered angel shark in Irish waters”, and Ireland recently supported a proposal from the Government of Monaco that angel shark be included in annexes I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.

This “provides a framework to enhance protection for this migratory species”, it said.

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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