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Wednesday 29 March 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# angel shark
This shark hasn't been seen off Ireland for three years. It's one of 48 species on a proposed 'protected list'
The Angel Shark was targeting in sport angling competitions during the 60s and 70s and hasn’t been seen since 2015.

shutterstock_701993491 Shutterstock / Martin Prochazkacz A basking shark. Shutterstock / Martin Prochazkacz / Martin Prochazkacz

CONSERVATIONISTS SAY THAT species of fish and other marine life found in Irish waters need better protection.

A new report from the Irish wildlife trust sets out 48 species of fish (including sharks and rays) and other animals that they say should be included.

Some of these are already threatened with extinction. Some are only found in limited areas off the Irish coast.

The organisation, which runs educational programmes and carries out surveys of marine life, says the absence of such protections has led to certain species being chronically over-exploited in the past.

“The Basking Shark is the second largest fish in the sea, but Ireland is the only country in its range where it is not legally protected,” said a statement from the group, outlining the current state of a number of species.

“The native oyster once spread out in vast carpets across inland bays and estuaries but now struggle for survival in a handful of deplete populations.

The short-snouted seahorse is known only from the coasts of Dublin, Clare, East Cork and Belfast Lough.

The trust says it is calling for “full legal protection” for the fish and invertebrates named on its list.

While many native animals – like deer, pine martens and nesting birds – have been afforded protections in terms of restrictions on hunting and protection of their habitats, the organisation says that, to date, no marine creatures have been afforded protection under the Wildlife Act.

The report includes species assessed on four criteria:

  • Assessed as threatened with extinction, or near threatened by scientists (such as Basking Sharks, Porbeagle Sharks, Halibut or Turbot)
  • Already benefiting from some legal protection under the EU’s Habitats Directive (e.g. Atlantic Salmon or Lampreys)
  • Evidence for a marked decline in Irish waters (e.g. the purple sea urchin or the native oyster)
  • Or with a very localised distribution (such as the Short-snouted Seahorse and some anemones)

shutterstock_420336745 Shutterstock / Olena Zaskochenko An angel shark. Shutterstock / Olena Zaskochenko / Olena Zaskochenko

What happened to the Angel Shark?

As part if its report, released this week, the Irish Wildlife Trust examined the fate of the Angel Shark, which was last spotted in Irish waters three years ago.

Although a member of the shark family, it doesn’t have the classic shark shape, but a flatter appearance and a broad snout. Adults can grow up to two-and-a-half metres long.

Until the 60s, they could be found all around the Irish coast, according to the trust – but they were targeting in sport angling competitions during the 60s and 70s.

According to the report:

Like many shark species, the female Angel Shark gives birth to live young, bearing a relatively small number of pups (7-25). Gestation is long, up to ten months.
Because of these characteristics overfishing can take a heavy toll, and species are slow to recover.
It is for this reason that so many endangered species of marine life are sharks and rays.
In the late 1980s Clew Bay in County Mayo and Tralee Bay in County Kerry were still considered to have ‘really large’ Angel Sharks.
In 2005 it was clear that the Angel Shark was in big trouble and it was taken off the Irish Specimen Fish List – but this was too late to save it from disappearing from many of its haunts. In recent years the Clew Bay population has been lost. Until recently Tralee Bay was the last known location, and even here the most recent confirmed sighting was in 2015.
Its conservation status is now ‘critically endangered’. Is it too late to save the Angel Shark from complete extinction in Ireland?

The trust says extending protection to the species on its list “would close all harmful commercial or non-commercial activities until such time as that species was no longer threatened”.

Targeted hunting, either in a commercial fishery or for recreational angling would be regulated (i.e. a licence would be required). The National Parks and Wildlife Service would oversee the licencing and ensure that conditions are attached which ensure the use of appropriate gear, handling, open seasons, etc. – as is done for existing protected species, such as deer.

Some classifications of protection for fish and marine animals already exist.

Many Irish bays and estuaries are already protected under an EU Habitats scheme – although the Irish Wildlife Trust argues that some harmful fishing practices are still permitted in these areas.

The Common Fisheries Policy allows for a total allowable catch for fish species of commercial interest – but the organisation contends that this is often impossible to enforce because of commercial fishing systems which catch many species at the same time.

The full Irish Wildlife Trust list of 48 species can be found here. 

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said in a statement:

DAFM, through the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, is committed to ensuring the conservation of biodiversity around our coast and minimising and managing interactions with fisheries.
We work closely with the relevant departments, agencies and stakeholders in this work.

The Department’s statement added that the establishment of marine protected areas is the responsibility of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Read: Huge basking sharks get up close and personal with Malin Head canoeists >

Read: ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’: Sailing coach unfazed during encounter with basking shark in Skerries >

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