By Caitlín O’Driscoll
NEW research by Inland Fisheries Ireland has revealed how angel shark stocks have declined alarmingly in Irish waters and are nearing extinction.
The disappointing news came after an analysis of angling data over a 40-year period at two hotspots in Irish waters. Since 2000, only 20 angel shark have been recorded by Inland Fisheries Ireland with just one caught since 2011. Two sightings of the angel shark have been recorded in West Cork – but none in the last few decades.
One sighting was in Castletownbere in 1974, and the other was spotted near Cape Clear in 1982, a spokesperson for Inland Fisheries told The Southern Star.
The angel shark is a flat-bodied shark with a general appearance mid-way between sharks and rays. It inhabits inshore coastal waters at depths of 1-150m.
While angel sharks were common in waters from Scotland to North Africa, they are susceptible to capture in commercial fishing gear and as a result, their populations have declined sharply. Their large size and slow reproductive cycle mean they are vulnerable to capture.
Pups are born live at 20-30cm and in moderately large litters of 7-25 individuals. Pupping season varies regionally from December to February in the Mediterranean, April to July in the Canary Islands and July in the UK and Ireland.
Dr William Roche, study co-author and senior research officer at Inland Fisheries Ireland said: ‘Our analysis shows that catches of angel shark 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.’
Lead author Sam Shephard said: ‘The imperative now is to learn more about the species in its previous strongholds and in any new locations, and work to protect these critical environments. Inland Fisheries Ireland is keen to contribute to international efforts to safeguard this species.’
To read the report, search ‘Angel Shark’ at www.int-res.com.