New research has revealed how angel shark stocks have declined alarmingly in Irish waters, according to Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, includes long-term data which shows how stocks crashed in the late 1990s and remain severely depleted today.
An analysis of angling data over a 40-year period at two hotspots in Irish waters – Tralee Bay and Clew Bay – reveals a sharp decline of at least 95 per cent over the last 25 years.
Since 2000, only 20 angel sharks have been recorded by IFI, with just one caught since 2011. This compares to an average of 65 tagged annually in Ireland by charter boat skippers at their peak in the 1980s.
Between 1958 and 2016, a total of 1,261 were recorded, with most of the fish (85 per cent) captured in Tralee Bay and a further 9 per cent in Clew Bay. The data for these historical hotspots are significant to international conservation efforts.
While angel shark were common in waters from Scotland to North Africa, they are susceptible to capture in commercial fishing gear. Their large size, slow reproductive cycle and tendency to live on the seabed mean they are vulnerable to capture.
Since the 1970s, scientists have been co-ordinating the tagging of sharks and rays caught on Irish recreational angling boats. The Marine Tagging Programme distributes numbered tags to skippers along with information and a logbook, while the Irish Specimen Fish Committee co-ordinates the collection of information of specimen fish caught in Irish waters.
Dr William Roche, the study’s co-author and a senior research officer at IFI, said: “Our analysis shows that catches have declined to almost zero in both Tralee Bay and Clew Bay. However, there is still some hope for angel shark in Ireland, as there have been anecdotal sightings of the fish in recent years.”