SharkTagLogoANGLERS IN Scotland have launched the country’s first comprehensive shark tagging programme in an effort to protect the many species of fish which are at risk of being wiped out in local waters.

The move by grassroots conservationists seizes the initiative and exposes Government reticence to take immediate direct action, despite signing up last month to a European Community “Plan of Action”. This places emphasis on member states to gather data for a deeper understanding of sharks and their role in ecosystems and fisheries.

The Scottish Shark Tagging Programme (SSTP) has been created by the  Scottish Sea Anglers Conservation Network (SSACN), one of the country’s most vigorously proactive campaigning groups.

Ian Burrett, Project Director, SSACN
Ian Burrett, Project Director, SSACN

Ian Burrett, SSACN’s project director, said: “This programme will help fill many of the serious gaps which remain in our understanding of shark biology.”

Jane Dodd, marine project officer for Scottish Natural Heritage in Oban said: “I’m delighted that all the data on sharks and rays caught by recreational anglers in Scotland will be held in one place.

Jane Dodd, SNH marine project officer
Jane Dodd, SNH marine project officer

“That way we can make sure that the data is as complete as possible to learn the most about the species and that the anglers get some feedback on the great work they are doing.”

Ali Hood, conservation director of the UK Shark Trust said: “We believe the angling community can be a valuable source of data and information and in this vein the Trust supporfts well managed tag and release programmes.”

Existing SSACN data on the common skate and tope will be extended to include other species such as bull huss, spurdog and rays.  The information will be made available on a public interactive website to allow immediate feedback about previous captures and distances travelled.

Burrett added: “Tagging is one of the few non-destructive assessments of sharks available and will help provide some of the much needed data for species migrations, growth rates, stock populations, make-up and fluctuations.”

Richard Lochhead: fisheries minister
Richard Lochhead: fisheries minister

Last month Scottish fisheries minister, Richard Lochhead, speaking in Luxembourg, backed the  European CPA.  “In Scotland we are working closely with the industry and NGOs to ensure that sharks are given adequate protection and that our waters remain helathy and our fish stocks sustainable,” he said.

The SSACN thinks the Government is long on rhetoric and short on action.
It has been lobbying the EU and Scottish Government for a coherent approach to shark conservation for years.

It also recognises that no scientific body can afford to pay scientis and marine biologists effectively to tag and release large numbers of fish.  The SSTP it believes is the best compromise.

Next month, SSACN hosts one of the largest shark tagging events in the UK off the Solway coast when around 300 rods from as far afield as Kent and Dorset are expected to take part in Sharkatag 2009, a three-day exercise targeting tope, smoothound and spurdog.

The  resulting data will be added to information already gathered from last November’s hugely successful spurdog “tagathon” run by SSACN in lochs Sunart and Etive and will also be merged with the data sets of Glasgow Museums’ skate tagging programme.

SSACN believes Scottish sea lochs like Sunart and Etive contain refuge breeding populations of spurdog and is pressing the government to designate them as EU Marine Protected Areas.

Like many species of shark and ray, the once-prolific spurdog has now shrunk to 5% of its original biomass due to intense overfishing by bottom trawlers and long-liners chiefly from France, Ireland, Norway and the UK.

Sharks generally are slow growing, late maturing and produce small litters of young exposing them to rapid population falls when overfished.

Sea angling is the top coastal recreation activity in Scotland and is worth £150m a year to the economy according to preliminary results of Government-backed research study.

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