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Displaying items by tag: basking sharks

Ten to twenty per cent of the world's basking sharks are in Irish waters year-round. Because of this an international consortium of leading scientists and conservation organisations has today called on the Irish Government to provide legal protection for them.

"Ireland needs to do this," according to Dr Emmett Johnston, Founder Member of the Irish Basking Shark Group which has made the call on World Oceans Day. "The scientific community have given their full support to list the basking shark under the Wildlife Act. Now is the right time to protect them and their habitats. Irish coastal waters are one of the few places globally that basking sharks regularly and predictably occur on the surface close to shore.

As Afloat reported earlier, the number of breeding individuals has been estimated at approximately 8,000-10,000 worldwide, most of which are in the northeast Atlantic.

On Tom MacSweeney's Maritime Ireland Radio Show another Founder/Member of the Group, Dr Simon Berrow, who is also CEO of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said that during the Summer months basking sharks also suffer harassment and disturbance from boats, jet skis, divers and snorkelers.

Listen to Dr. Berrow here

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More than 2,000 people have already signed an online petition in support of legal protection for basking sharks in Irish waters.

The appeal was started by Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to encourage TDs to support The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled last week by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the bill would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

While basking sharks are an endangered species, they are currently not afforded the same protections in law as whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals in Irish waters.

Berrow says: "Ireland and our coastal communities have historically benefited from basking shark fisheries and today we have a duty to provide protection for this highly mobile species when they occupy Irish territorial waters."

He adds: "Adding the species to Schedule Five of the Wildlife Act (1976) as amended is the simplest method to provide protection for the species in Irish territorial waters."

Find the petition at MyUplift HERE.

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A Wicklow TD with a background in fisheries science and environmental law has introduced a bill that would afford stronger protections to basking sharks in Irish waters, as TheJournal.ie reports.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled by Dáil deputy Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

Experts estimate that as much as one-fifth of the global population of basking sharks may be found in Irish waters, though remarkably little is known about their lives — something researchers from Trinity have set out to discover by tagging a number of them off West Cork.

“We have a deep cultural connection to this animal and it is often a symbol of our indigenous maritime life,” Whitmore told the Dáil on Thursday (13 May).

However, the endangered marine wildlife giants are not a protected species in Ireland like cetaceans (dolphins, porpoise and whales) and seals.

TheJournal.ie has more on the story HERE.

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Researchers from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences were in West Cork earlier this month to tag some of the many basking sharks that have been frequenting our shores — and learn more about the second largest fish in the world’s oceans.

Funded by the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, Assistant Professor Nicholas Payne and PhD candidate Haley Dolton spent a week on the water with West Cork Charters in which they managed to apply tags to four basking sharks.

These electronic tags will accumulate data about the sharks’ behaviour and physiology as they move around the coast feeding on plankton.

The goal, the researchers say, is to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of these gentle giants and hopefully guide conservation efforts for this endangered marine wildlife species.

“Basking sharks are a difficult species to study because they are not very abundant and they only grace our shores for a brief period each year, from April to August, so I am delighted we were able to learn so much about them this past week,” said Dr Payne.

Sadly the first phase of the pair’s work involved dissecting the remains of two basking sharks that washed up on the West Cork coast at the end of April, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

“We would rather not have have had the opportunity to examine the two sharks that died prematurely before we took to the sea, but these sad events did at least help us learn more about them,” Dr Payne explained.

“Basking sharks are an endangered species and at risk of death from fishing bycatch and from getting struck by boats, so the more we know about them — especially their behaviour and physiology — the better chance we have of protecting them.

“The experience we had of observing live sharks in all their glory really emphasises that we should do our best to protect these incredible animals.”

Dolton added: “The amount of data we managed to collect throughout the whole week was phenomenal and beyond what I’d hoped for. We are currently analysing all the results and look forward to sharing our findings with everyone later in the year.”

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The carcass of a second basking shark has washed up on the coast of West Cork just days after the discovery of an unusually fresh specimen 20km away.

According to Cork Beo, the second large fish was found at the weekend near Courtmacsherry and is believed to have been dead for some time.

Another basking shark carcass measuring a whopping seven metres that beached at Inchydoney last week presented a rare opportunity for marine biologists to examine relatively fresh remains.

It’s unknown how the female shark died, but dissection revealed that the marine wildlife giant still had food in its stomach.

“It’s sad of course to see such a big beautiful animal like that, but it’s good to try and get something positive out of it,” Trinity lecturer Dr Nicholas Payne said.

Basking sharks have been spotted in great numbers off West Cork this month, with video of a kayaker surrounded by the second biggest fish in the sea making a splash last week.

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Next Tuesday 13 April the Cork Nature Network hosts a free talk in the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, and specifically on the largest fish in the sea.

During this talk, Dr Alina Wieczorek will be presenting her research — being conducted both in Ireland and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean — on microplastic interactions with whale sharks and basking sharks.

She will also share some first insights into how researchers can use scientific findings to inform society and stakeholders to collaboratively find solutions to address environmental issues such as plastic pollution.

Online attendance for ‘Microplastics a Macro-Disaster: A threat to the largest fish of our seas?’ at 7pm next Tuesday 13 April is free, and registration is open now at Eventbrite.

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Remarkable video of basking sharks engaging in what’s believed to be courtship behaviour has been captured by drone off Co Clare.

As RTÉ News reports, members of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) shot the footage of nine sharks swimming in a circle around their research boat last month.

Basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish species, are typically seen on the surface of Irish inshore waters in the spring, and rarely this late in the year.

“But we realised immediately that they were not feeding,” said Dr Simon Berrow, co-founder of the IBSG and chief executive of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

“This was something else, something special.”

The research team also took the opportunity to collect DNA samples from the massive marine wildlife, which which may reveal if they are genetically distinct from those big fish seen in the same waters earlier in the year.

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How many basking sharks have reclaimed the waters off the South and West Coasts? “We don’t really know” is the honest answer from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

But after a video of surfers in a close encounter with a school of the marine wildlife giants went viral last week, it’s become clear that the numbers — potentially into the thousands — are remarkable, if not unusual.

Getting a complete picture, however, “would require something like an aerial survey”, says IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

In the meantime, their close proximity to the shore to feed on zooplankton presents “a fantastic opportunity for the members of the public to observe and record their observations to the IWDG, and thus make a real contribution to marine conservation”.

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A surfing quartet got up close with a school of basking sharks off Co Clare at the weekend, as the Irish Examiner reports.

The surfers had brought a GoPro camera to video their wave-riding exploits, which came in handy to capture their encounter with as many as 20 of the giant marine wildlife on Saturday afternoon (2 May).

“They were quite slow and peaceful, and they just came towards us and cruised past,” says Tom Gillespie, one of the four and who recorded the footage.

“We just tried to make sure we didn’t look like plankton.”

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) suggests that sightings of basking sharks in recent weeks indicate there could be “hundreds of animals” in a hotspot between Clare and the Aran Islands.

But while such large groupings are unusual, they are not unprecedented, according to the IWDG’s sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

“As we are still less than mid-way through the shark season, it’s a little premature to be calling this a record year for sharks,” he said. “Better to wait till the end of the season when we can review all the sightings data and reflect on how good a season this has been the planet’s second biggest fish.”

Despite their fearsome size, basking sharks feed only on plankton and pose no threat to humans.

But that should not serve as any encouragement to take a dip while as social distancing measures remain in place.

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One of the world’s largest sharks had become a regular visitor to an Achill Island beach, as Independent.ie reports.

Local tourist officials have recorded almost daily sightings of the 20-plus-foot basking shark in the waters of Keem Bay over the last month.

And has word of got out, visitor numbers on the Co Mayo island are growing among those hoping to get a glimpse of the gargantuan fish.

The second biggest fish in the seas behind the whale shark — and the largest in the North Atlantic — basking sharks are regulars in Irish waters.

Indeed, number of the gentle marine wildlife giants have reached such figures that experts have referred to the waters off the West Coast in the summer months as a ‘shark ark’.

Independent.ie has more on the story HERE.

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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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