Friday, June 19, 2009

Action on Shark conservation in Scotland



The largest shark tagging event ever held in Scotland, the UK and probably in the world - was the verdict of those who took part in last weekend's Sharkatag organised by the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (www.ssacn.org).

Two hundred and fifteen anglers of all ages and abilities, coming from as far away as Cornwall and Caithness, attended the event held around the Solway region in South West Scotland, fishing from boats, kayaks and the shore to catch, tag and release various shark species. This kind of response highlights the potential for recreational sea angling to be a significant tourist business in Galloway.

The event had three goals - to highlight the perilous state of endangered shark species; to start gathering some of the data to support claims for their protection; to continue to press politicians and fisheries managers to recognise the needs of the sea angling community and its contribution to the Scottish economy.

The SSACN project team who put the event together were amazed by the response and support it received from the anglers, local hoteliers, shops, caravan parks and local skippers as well as support given by the local people. Although the social side was fantastic, the fishing was less so. According to Ian Burrett, SSACN's Project Director, "Around two hundred tope, smoothhound and bull huss were tagged over the three days and that can only be described as poor compared to what the total should have been.

"It really worries me that many of the tope packs have failed to show this year. The whole region seems to be void of the expected male breeding stock and the fish caught were mostly immature females, typically under twenty pounds and a few solitary females in the 50-60 pound range; Luce Bay was especially poor for the time of year."

"Combined with the lack of rays tagged, only three throughout Sharkatag, it shows how urgently plans are needed to help protect and regenerate the stocks. Twenty year ago virtually every boat would have recorded several mature tope and rays."

For decades governments and fisheries managers have made decisions regarding exploitation by the catching sector without the full knowledge of the state of fish stocks and the marine environment. However, when it is obvious to all that many stocks are in serious danger, there is a total lack of action by Scottish fisheries managers to protect stocks due to 'an insufficiency of data'.

To help overcome that 'insufficiency', the information gathered during Sharkatag will feed into SSACN's Scottish Shark Tagging Programme (SSTP - www.tagsharks.com) which has been introduced to act as a central clearing point for all data regarding shark, skate and ray stocks in Scottish coastal waters.

Without regeneration, not only will Scotland's marine biodiversity lose more species, but the £150+ million/yr and the £25+ million/yr which sea angling contributes to the Scottish and Solway economies, will also suffer. With a little political will and some proactive measures, the biodiversity losses could be halted and the Solway could become a European centre of excellence for sea angling. This would probably bring another £15 million/yr to its economy through increased angling tourism.

Registered taggers will continue the work year round on targeted species, but the next SSACN organised major tagging event will be the annual spurdog 'Tagathon' to be held in late autumn in the waters around Lochs Sunart, Etive and the Sound of Mull when once again, SSACN look forward to welcoming as many 'taggers' as possible.

Visit the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network for more information.

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