Irish shark experts have called on newly elected MEPs to outlaw the growing shark fin fishery in European waters, following a fine imposed on a Spanish fishing vessel detained off the Irish coast.
The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed that the fine of €2,500 and forfeiture of catch and gear worth €165,000 was imposed on the Spanish vessel Virxen da Blanca, following a guilty plea in Cork circuit court on May 23rd last.
The vessel had pleaded guilty to catches of Blue Shark with a small quantity of Mako Shark on board after it was detained by the Naval Service about 150 nautical miles south of Ireland last August.
A special sitting of Clonakilty district court last year also heard the vessel had 1,250kg of shark fins on board. The vessel was supposedly fishing for tuna.
Shark fins can fetch a high price in Asia, where they are used in shark fin 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.
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).
Dr Kevin Flannery, chair of the Irish Elasmobranch Group which is focused on protecting sharks, ray and skates, said that a loophole in the licensing of the tuna longline fishery was allowing a bycatch of shark off this coast.
The fine imposed on the Virxen da Blanca (italics) represented “just 50 cents” for each dead shark, given that the vessel had an estimated 5,000 on board, he said.
“We congratulate the Naval Service and SFPA and welcome the guilty plea, but we are calling on newly elected MEPs to close off this legal loophole and stop this barbaric practice,” he said.
“We know of nine non-Irish vessels working off this coast, targeting blue shark in particular, and using a loophole in the tuna longline fishery,” he said.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Michael Creed recently said he was in favour of a “considerably lower” permitted by-catch of certain shark species.
He was responding to a case made by the IEG for action on critically endangered species, such as angel shark.
SFPA chairwoman Dr Susan Steele said the SFPA was committed to preventing illegal shark fishing and said it had “zero tolerance “ for vessels “removing fins from sharks in our waters”.
“Luckily this infringement was detected, and we will continue to work with authorities across Europe to deter and detect any future illegal shark fishing violations,” Dr Steele said.
She paid tribute to the inter-agency cooperation between the Naval Service, Garda and SFPA which led to the Spanish vessel’s detention last year.
Asked to comment on reported new measures being introduced in relation to the protection of angel shark in Irish waters, the SFPA said that for security and operational reasons it could not go into details.
It’s the Year of the Shark at Ireland’s Sea Life Centre where two Short Tail Nurse Sharks have bred for the first time. The eggs from the rare sharks, now facing a dramatic decline in the wild, can now be seen growing in their tank and the pups are expected to hatch towards the end of the year.
The female shark was born in Sea Life in 2006 from a wild caught egg and is one of the first of the species to breed in captivity. The male shark was also born in 2006, in Artis Zoo in Amsterdam and came to Sea Life on loan in 2013 as part of a European breeding programme. But they didn’t breed immediately, it took them four years to get together! This shark is only found in three locations in the wild, off the coasts of Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa and in the waters surrounding Madagascar.
The Short Tail Nurse Shark has been placed on the ‘vulnerable’ list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Its decline has resulted from commercial overfishing for food and particularly for its fins, which are regarded as a delicacy in Asia and which sell for around £140 a kilo. The fish is also caught as a bycatch in the heavily fished inshore waters of East Africa. It also suffers from the destruction of its natural habitat, the coral reefs.
It is a fascinating animal to watch. An inshore bottom dwelling species, it has a unique feeding apparatus with a small mouth but an enlarged pharynx that allows it to create a vacuum and suck up its prey. It is a nocturnal feeder, preying on sea urchins, squid and octopus. It has a habit of regularly floating upside down and can live for up to 33 years in captivity, becoming mature when it is 56 cm long.
Pat O’Suilleabhain, Director of Sea Life Bray, says it is a great achievement to have these rare sharks breed successfully in Ireland and that Bray can be proud to be part of a European wide breeding programme. ‘We became a part of this very interesting programme when Artis Zoo in the Netherlands agreed to loan us the male shark. There is little known about their breeding habits so there is great excitement throughout Europe as we wait for the pups to hatch.’
The eggs and the parents are currently on display at Sea Life in Bray.
Sailing instructor Kerri-Ann Boylan was out coaching kids in Optimist sailing dinghies at the weekend when she spotted a fin in the water in Skerries Harbour in North County Dublin.
'As I brought the kids into land and about to let them jump out of my boat we spotted a fin', she wrote on social media on October 10th.
'It's a very rare sight of a 'shark' being in that close to land and in the Irish Sea,' she added.
There is always something unusual in the sea, a phrase I have heard very often from marine scientists and which I have been known to utter myself. It comes to my mind time and again when I am preparing this fortnightly radio programme.
From somewhere in my educational background, most likely with the Presentation Brothers in Cork aeons ago, I became conditioned to believe in a world that was, seemingly, manufactured within a defined religious-approved period, but I did not conceive then as a youngster that this could have happened many, many millions of years back, before the period recognised by the Brothers who taught me a lot that I value today, but were less informative about the millions of years BC.
So, when I come across information about a new discovery in the ocean, dating back many millions of years ago, the dating of them still comes as a surprise to me. Perhaps that is reflective of my age, or rather maturity, which I prefer to regard it as – maturing … like a good wine!
Anyway, that phrase came back to me when collating the News review for the current edition of THIS ISLAND NATION and two stories which came from North America about discoveries going back those ‘millions of years ago’. They reported that sharks existed on Earth 300 million years ago and that was before the age of the Dinosaurs. The discoveries have been made by marine scientists in Texas and New Mexico. The fossil of a shark more than 8 metres long - that’s about 26 feet - and a quarter longer than the modern great white shark – has been found in Jacksboro, Texas, on what was the seabed of the Western Interior Seaway which covered Texas in water 300 million years ago. In addition to that, a nearly-complete fossilised shark that also dates to about 300 million years ago has been found during an archaeological dig in a quarry in New Mexico. A female specimen, this measures 6 feet, that’s around 2 metres, long.
It all shows that we still know less about the seas than we do about the Universe – and that’s something else which scientists say quite often!
#shark – Locals in Rush, County Dublin have rescued up to 30 Tope shark that were stranded in shallow water after the tide had gone out. The shark were transferred back to deeper water in the back of a jeep as this youtube video describes.
#shark – October 2012 marks an important milestone for the Marine Institute and Irish Elasmobranch Group's porbeagle shark tagging project as five more porbeagles have been tagged off the Donegal coast by the project's expert shark angler, Peter McAuley. The project, which has been ongoing since 2008, is now offering the public an opportunity to track the movements of two sharks in near real time on the Irish Elasmobranch Group's website, www.irishelasmobranchgroup.org.
Five sharks were tagged with conventional pop-up satellite tags, which will record the sharks' location and depth, over a nine month period. After this, the tags are programmed to detach, float to the surface and transmit the data to orbiting satellites. In addition to the pop-up tags, two of the tagged sharks were fitted with Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting (SPOT) tags. These tags are fitted on to the dorsal fin of the sharks and each time the fin breaks the water's surface, a position is transmitted to an orbiting satellite. This allows the sharks to be tracked in near real time and it is believed that this is the first time these tags have ever been fitted on porbeagles. The tags should function for at least the next year, providing a completely new insight into the behaviour of these sharks.
Porbeagle sharks, which are a very timid species of shark, can grow to over three metres and 250 kilograms, and are one of the largest predatory sharks in Irish waters, feeding on fish. Once the target of intensive commercial fishing, the porbeagle shark is now considered to be critically endangered in the northeast Atlantic by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since 2010, fishing for porbeagles has been banned in European waters; however, as little is known about its biology or ecology, such effective conservation measures are difficult to implement. The research team, comprising Dr. Ryan Saunders, Dr. Maurice Clarke and Dr. Edward Farrell, are attempting to understand the biology and ecology of the porbeagle shark by using advanced satellite linked tagging techniques. The project has already yielded some very important results, the most notable of which was the tagging of one shark, a juvenile male, that migrated over 2400 km from Ireland to Madeira. The movement of porbeagles from European waters to African waters was previously unknown and it has important implications for the conservation and management of the species.
In 2011 the research team was successful in attaining funding from both the Swiss based Save Our Seas Foundation and the German based Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU) to continue the project and to build on the important findings already made. Given the large scale movements of porbeagles, collaborations were also developed with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in the UK and with the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER).
These five newly tagged sharks also need names so a competition is being organised in collaboration with Galway Atlantaquaria which will give school children the chance to name these five sharks. Details about the competition are available on the Irish Elasmobranch Group website.
#MARINE WILDLIFE - A Sligo-based surfer has relived the moment when he was attacked by a shark in his native New Zealand.
As the Otago Daily Times reports, 42-year-old Peter Garrett was surfing off Taranaki on North Island on Tuesday when the shark mauled him, leaving 10 bloody wounds - each about 2cm deep - with its razor-sharp teeth.
"He was bleeding quite a bit," said James Bruce, one of two vets surfing in the area who came to his aid. "You could tell from the teeth marks it could've been more serious."
Speaking to the Irish Independent from New Zealand, Garrett said he was knee-boarding at the time when he felt a bump to the board and a sudden sharp pain in his leg.
"I looked down and there was a shark on my leg and I sort of yelled obscenities at it... But it came back and I kicked at it with my flippers."
New Zealand has a relatively high incidence of unprovoked shark attacks, with some 44 on record since the mid 19th century - compared to 39 for the whole of Europe.
The Irish Independent has more on the story, including photos, HERE.
#PERTH2011 – First electrical storms now possible shark attacks! It's all happening for the Irish Olympic team seeking qualification at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships this week.
Aerial shark patrols over the sailing courses have been stepped up today after a credible sighting of a large shark in the Fremantle Fishing Boat harbour.
Event Director John Longley today briefed international sailing teams on the sighting late Tuesday, saying it was being taken seriously.
"The report was made by a professional fisherman who is regarded as a reliable source," Longley told sailing officials. "We have informed Western Australian government authorities who will ensure that the usual helicopter shark patrol will concentrate on checking out the Fremantle course area. Our course boats and the Fremantle Rescue Service will also be on extra alert after the reported sighting."
"The safety of athletes is paramount." Longley said. "This is part of the reason why we changed the racing rules for the Perth 2011 ISAF Worlds not to penalise sailors who need assistance to get back into their boats after a capsize."
More than 1100 sailors from 79 nations are taking part in the ISAF Sailing Worlds Championships being held between 3 – 18 December.
"Sharks are captured and their fins cut off before the remaining carcasses are thrown back into the sea. The practice was made illegal in the EU in 2003, but under the present regulations, Member States are able to issue special permits to exempt fishing vessels from the ban," the North West MEP explained.
Under the exemption, the weight of fins kept from the catch must not exceed 5% of the live weight of the shark catch. However, reports have found the fins of some shark species did not typically represent 5% of the live weight of a shark, creating a loophole that meant finning could take place unnoticed.
"Anti-finning campaigners want to see the adoption of a requirement that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. It is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently and I would ask the Commission to update MEPs on their progress towards new legislation in this area which will completely outlaw shark finning," Mr Higgins added.
Globally, sharks are captured for their meat, fins, liver and oil. However, it is the fins that command high prices, fetching up to 300 euros/kg in Hong Kong.