Tope, Luce Bay, Solway
Tope, Luce Bay, Solway. Picture:

SHARK populations off Scotland’s south-west coast are now at a “critical low” angling conservationists warned today as results from last weekend’s massive tagging exercise were revealed.

Some 215 volunteer anglers from all over the UK travelled to the Solway coast to take part in Sharkatag 2009, a three-day project to catch, tag and release various species of endangered sharks.

Project Director Ian Burrett of the Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN), said: “Around 200 tope, smoothound and bull huss were tagged over the three days and that can only be described as poor compared with what the total should have been.”

He said he was extremely concerned that packs of tope appeared to be absent.  “The whole region seems to be void of the expected male breeding stock and the fish caught were most immature females, typically under 20 lbs.” He said mackerel food stocks were “patchy”.

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

Burrett said the shark species were at a fraction of their levels of a decade ago when he himself could have expected to have caught up to 20 fish a day in the 30-35lb class.

Just three specimens of thornback ray, another threatened species, were caught during the weekend. He added: “It shows how urgently plans are needed to help protect and regenerate the stocks.”

SSACN claim that  successive governments and fisheries managers have made decisions regarding commercial exploitation of inshore fish without adequate knowledge of stocks or the environment.

“Yet, when it is obvious to all that many stocks are in serious danger, there is a total lack of protective action by Scottish fisheries managers due to an ‘insufficiency of data’,” Burrett said.

The anglers want several key areas of Scotland’s west coast designated for marine protection with inshore commercial fishing, especially scallop dredgers, banned.

They have set up the Scottish Shark Tagging Programme database to act as a central clearing point for all data on sharks, skate and ray stocks in Scottish coastal waters and will use the results to put pressure on the Government to take conservation measures.

The Scottish Government is currently considering an independent report on the economic impact of sea angling which it is estimated is worth at least £150 million a year.

The anglers say that designating the Solway as a European centre for sea angling could bring in a further £15 million a year to the local economy.