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West Cork is enjoying a veritable bounty of whale sightings “in dolphin numbers”, as the Southern Star reports.

Video recorded last week near Union Hall shows two humpbacks who followed a whale watching vessel “in a very sociable mood”, according to Cork Whale Watch’s Colin Barnes.

He descried it as the best marine wildlife sighting of its kind in the last two decades — a sentiment echoed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s Padraig Whooley.

Noting a recent report of as many as 100 minke whales spotted on a single boat trip, Whooley said the whale activity off the South Coast at present is “exceptional on a global scale”.

The Southern Star has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Independent covers the excitement among the denizens of Drogheda after a dolphin swimming up the River Boyne paid an unexpected visit to the town.

Reports of a dog in the water yesterday morning (Thursday 22 April) turned out to be wide of the mark when Boyne Fishermen Rescue and Recovery encountered the “medium-sized dolphin” in the River Boyne at the Upper Mell slipway, just east of the town centre and some 7km from the open sea.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group says the marine wildlife is likely to be a bottlenose and called for the public to contact it with any images or reports of further sighings.

While there is no immediate cause for concern, dolphins are saltwater animals and can develop serious kidney and skin problems with prolonged exposure to freshwater environments.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has said it is “irresponsible to raise peoples' hopes” that a dolphin spotted off West Cork in recent days might be Dingle’s missing resident bottlenose, Fungie.

Cork Beo reported on Sunday (11 April) on video recorded off the Old Head of Kinsale of a playful solitary dolphin which has sparked optimism that Fungie has reappeared some six months since he vanished from Dingle Harbour, his home since 1983.

But the IWDG has moved to play down such hopes, reminding that bottlenose dolphins like Fungie “are abundant and widespread throughout Irish coastal waters”.

It added: “While the IWDG are surprised at this individual’s behaviour around the boat it was recently filmed from, it is way too early to speculate that this dolphin is Fungie.

“The IWDG have validated 13 sightings of bottlenose dolphins off the Irish coast already this month (April) from Co Kerry to Co Louth.”

The group is awaiting clearer images of the dolphin’s tail fluke or dorsal fin before it makes any confirmed identification.

“The IWDG feel it is irresponsible to raise peoples’ hopes that this might indeed be Fungie, while current evidence merely shows it to be a bottlenose dolphin behaving in an unexpected fashion,” it said.

It’s not the first video of a frolicking dolphin to cause a stir in recent weeks, as footage captured in Galway Bay last month raised hopes that Fungie had relocated along the West Coast.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Viewers in Ireland have another chance to catch a fascinating documentary on a unique expedition to the Arctic Circle tracing the origins of Ireland’s annual humpback whale visitors.

Broadcast yesterday evening on RTÉ One, Ireland to Iceland - On the Trail of the Humpback Whale follows marine wildlife researchers and volunteers with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) on their weeks-long passage to Ireland in search of humpback whales in 2018.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, Tony Whelan’s film also charts the links that the Irish crew made with Iceland and the costal communities they met along the way.

Now the film is available to watch for 30 days for viewers in the Republic of Ireland on the RTÉ Player.

Published in Maritime TV
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has warned the public to stay away from the final resting place of a humpback whale carcass that washed ashore in West Cork last month.

And according to the Southern Star, poor weather forecast for later this week has dampened hopes to potentially retrieve the marine wildlife remains for public display.

The carcass of the juvenile humpback whale is only the ninth recorded stranding of the species in Ireland, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

First spotted in the waters of Roaringwater Bay, it eventually came to rest on the rocky shore at the foot of steep bank at Colla West near Schull, where IWDG volunteers have examined the remains over the weeks since.

Plans had been mooted to preserve the skeleton as a potential tourism draw for the area, the IWDG’s Pádraig Whooley said, though this would be “at great expense”.

“Although the plan was tentative, if successful, it would be a wonderful opportunity because the only other humpback whale on display is in the Natural History Museum, and that dates back to 1893,” he added.

The Southern Star has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) won the tender to provide a marine mammal observer on three fisheries acoustic surveys with the Marine Institute this year.

These include a survey for blue whiting this month, the Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic (WESPAS) survey during June and July and the Celtic Sea Herring Acoustic Survey in October.

The aforementioned missions are annual stock assessment surveys and cover a huge area of the Irish EEZ.

Data on higher trophic predators such as marine mammals and seabirds are essential to provide the data to support the development of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

Experienced offshore surveyor Dr Justin Judge will be joining each cruise to record all sightings of whales and dolphins and other interesting endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, as well as recording the vessels’ track and environmental conditions.

He follows in the footsteps of Dave Wall, who used data collected from these annual surveys in 2014 to built the dataset to publish the first Offshore Atlas of Marine Mammal Distribution.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Whale and dolphin strandings in Ireland for the first two months of 2021 have reached their highest peak yet with 93 records, as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports.

The bulk of these marine wildlife findings were common dolphins, with 64 in total discovered around the Irish coast since the beginning of the year.

“Although historically the IWDG have identified January to March as a peak stranding period for common dolphins, 2021 figures are already proving to be quite high compared to the same period in previous years,” says IWDG sightings officer Stephanie Levesque.

“This time last year, IWDG had received 70 records in total, of which 40 were common dolphins.”

The total figure comprises eight species: common, bottlenose, striped and Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, long-finned pilot whale, minke whale and one rare record of a humpback whale, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Levesque adds: “There are most likely several factors affecting this increase in reported strandings, and although we are not sure exactly what is causing it, a number of factors must be taken into account.

“As the entire country found itself in lockdown, and was spending significantly more time walking the local shores during the peak stranding period, there was bound to be more reporting taking place.”

In addition, Levesque reports that the IWDG has had a high social media reach in recent months “and perhaps more people are inclined to report these strandings”.

There is also “increasing evidence of a broad-scale movement of common dolphins from deep offshore waters into shelf edge waters” within the North-East Atlantic.

“IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley has noted more common dolphin sightings reported off the coast of Ireland this winter, and where you have more dolphins, it likely leads to more strandings,” Levesque adds.

Nearly one in 10 (9%) of recorded strandings between 1 January and 28 February have “gross signs of bycatch in rising gear” such as broken jaws, cut-off tails and dorsal fin tips, and being entangled in fishing gear.

“This is likely to be a minimum as diagnosing bycatch can be quite difficult if the lesions are more subtle, or drowning has taken place with no external lesions,” Levesque says.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it welcomes the new public consultation on expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the Government is aiming to have 30% of Ireland’s maritime area designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.

Current coverage is just 2.13%, the IWDG says, adding that there is at present no definition of an MPA in Irish law.

“We wish to see Ireland achieve their international commitments and legal obligations, and create a truly ecologically coherent network of well-managed and well resourced MPAs, that is representative and connected,” says Sibéal Regan, the IWDG’s Education and Outreach Officer.

“In that case, it must be defined and underpinned by the appropriate legislation.”

It’s also hoped that expanding Ireland’s designated conservation areas for marine wildlife will protect core habitats from encroachment by human activity such as fishing.

Research commissioned by the IWDG has identified a number of hotspots for dolphins, porpoise and whales within Ireland’s 12-nautical-mile limit.

These have informed the group’s recommendations for potential MPA sites around the coast, available on the IWDG website here.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is seeking to recruit a Science Officer to join its core team based in the Shannon Dolphin Centre in Kilrush, Co Clare.

The Science Officer will be expected to work closely with the team in Kilrush and other officers in the IWDG; manage all IWDG archived data; identify relevant opportunities to collect and interpret data; contribute to conservation actions and policies; identify gaps in IWDG scientific knowledge and priorities for scientific research; and identify roles for the IWDG research vessel Celtic Mist.

Whoever assumes this role will also be encouraged to seek funding for research projects, and will contribute heavily to IWDG consulting, including desktop assessments and site fieldwork.

The successful applicant will have a strong scientific background and a track record of marine wildlife reseach, specifically cetacean research. The Science Officer will have practical experience of database management, good communication skills and knowledge of cetaceans in Ireland. Commercial fishing experience would be an asset, as would be knowledge of Marine Protected Areas.

Environmental consultancy experience is important as the successful candidate will also be contributing to consultancy outputs.

The contract will be for a maximum of three years, pending a successful annual review and the availability of funds. Salary will be commensurate with experience and qualifications and will align with recommendations for graduates in Ireland and is likely to be in the region of €30-40,000 per annum.

Applications including full CV should be sent to [email protected] with the subject line ‘Science Officer Position’ before 5pm on Friday 26 March.

Further details can be found on the IWDG website and interested candidates should contact [email protected] if they require more information.

Published in Jobs
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The carcass of a juvenile humpback whale washed ashore in West Cork is only the ninth such stranding of the species in Ireland, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

Sightings officer Pádraig Whooley confirmed from images of the marine wildlife specimen captured in Roaringwater Bay yesterday (Wednesday 24 February) that it was a juvenile male not previously recorded in Irish waters.

Such young whales are not unexpected close to our shores at this time of year, when adults of breeding age are either en route to or already at lower-latitude breeding sites such as Cabo Verde off West Africa.

“This is something that some young humpbacks can opt out of, as it’s a long track south to places like the Cabo Verde and with no hope of successfully breeding there is nothing much in it for them,” Whooley explains.

“So a cohort of young, independent humpbacks seem content to over winter at higher latitudes, where there is, or should be, plenty of food for them.”

In this case, however, Whooley says: “The images we’ve received so far suggest it is in rather thin condition and so it may not have fed for some time.

“There are no obvious signs of rope marks or net damage that may suggest entanglement in fishing gear, something that slow-swimming humpbacks that remain inshore are prone to. And there are no large traumas to suggest ship-strike. So as is so often the case, the circumstances underpinning this stranding are unclear.

“IWDG hope in the coming days to visit the site to take detailed measurements and get skin and blubber samples which can be used for genetics, contaminants and stable isotope analyses.”

Whooley adds that the IWDG is in liaison with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) regarding examination of the carcass and its disposal, but suggests that because of its remote location “there is no strong case for removal”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Irish Fishing industry 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.

FAQs

Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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