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"Astonishing" Abundance of Warm Water Anchovies off South Coast - Marine Institute Says it is "aware" of Situation

1st December 2020
Irish vessel Ocean Venture II landing into Dingle harbour, Co Kerry, where large quantities of warm water anchovies have appeared in the past week Irish vessel Ocean Venture II landing into Dingle harbour, Co Kerry, where large quantities of warm water anchovies have appeared in the past week Credit: Nick Massett

Sea temperatures may seem bracing for swimmers, but shoals of warm water anchovies have appeared in large numbers off the south-west coast.

“Astonishing” is how Kerry-based fish expert Dr Kevin Flannery describes the volume of tiny oily fish, widely used in Mediterranean cooking.

Flannery estimates that at least 1,000 tonnes of anchovies has been landed into south-west harbours over the past week by a number of Irish vessels fishing in Dingle Bay and off the Cork coast.

a truck waiting to take tonnes of warm water anchovies caught by Irish vessels in Dingle Bay for fish meal. (credit Nick Massett)a truck waiting to take tonnes of warm water anchovies caught by Irish vessels in Dingle Bay for fish meal. (credit Nick Massett)A truck waiting to take tonnes of warm water anchovies caught by Irish vessels in Dingle Bay for fish meal. Photo: Nick Massett

Small numbers of anchovies have been identified in Irish waters before, with the first record being off Ventry, Co Kerry, in 1870. The fish also appeared off Crookhaven, Co Cork last January.

“We thought of them as vagrants, whereas this past week has seen astonishing numbers,” Flannery said.

“There is an urgent need for the Marine Institute to analyse this and establish if it is a permanent trend, where perhaps the anchovies are displacing herring,” he said.

“There is also an urgent need for Bord Bia to develop markets for Irish boats catching these fish because at the moment there is no market and trucks are taking them for fishmeal,” he said.

Peru has one of the world’s largest anchovy fisheries, and the popularity of the fish as a pizza topping, in salads and with olives has increased the value of the catch.

EU quotas for anchovies have been set for Atlantic areas, mainly in the Bay of Biscay and west of Portugal, and there is no quota in Irish waters –making it an open fishery, according to the State’s Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

“The SFPA is aware of the presence of these vessels in the Dingle area and is monitoring their activities in line with relevant regulations,” it said.

The Marine Institute said that it was aware of anchovies appearing in these waters in small numbers since 2003, and picked them up as part of its periodic groundfish surveys.

However, it said there was no evidence to date of abundance, or of spawning in Irish waters.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group noted that sending the catches for fish meal was a “poor use of forage fish”.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation said it was “wonderful to see these fish returning to our shores, and will give a big needed boost to our fishermen after the terrible year they have suffered from storms and collapsing markets due to the Covid pandemic”.

Anchovy are a species with a “low vulnerability and high resilience and as such can sustain high levels of fishing pressure,” according to the Marine Conservation Society.

“Recruitment of young fish to the stock is affected by environmental factors including climatic fluctuations. If recruitment is low and fishing pressure too high the stock becomes vulnerable to collapse,” it says.

“Anchovy are also a species at or near the base of the food chain and the impact of their large-scale removal on the marine ecosystem is poorly understood,” it says.


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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