Smoothhound shark
WHAT A SMOOTHY: Guy Stewart with his 'unoffical' record-breaking 15lb 1oz smoothhound shark

TWO record-breaking sharks, caught off south-west Scotland by sea anglers taking part in an official tagging programme, have highlighted the bizarre rules governing official statistics of UK catches.

Two of the largest smoothhound ever seen in Scottish waters were captured by Steve Frayling and Guy Stewart of Paisley-based Silverlure Sea Angling Club and weighed in at 10lb 4oz and a whopping 15lb 1oz respectively.

Both fish demolish the current UK boat record which stands at 7lb 1oz.  The shore record is 8lb 11oz.

But despite being carefully tagged and released back to sea as part of the current Scottish Shark Tagging Programme (SSTP), neither fish will ever appear in official records. Why?  Because they weren’t killed.

Rules governing the acceptance of sea fish into the record books have long been recognised as increasingly archaic and out of touch with current conservation policies.

The UK record fish committee say they require a carcase to make sure what is being claimed is actually what it really is because some species, like types of mullet or wrasse, can be difficult to identify. They also say it is necessary to stop cheating either by doctoring photographs or by inserting extra weight into the fish to boost its total.

But with the common skate now excluded from the “carcase” rules because of its critically endangered species status, and a significant increase in catch-and-release of many other similarly threatened species, it now seems to be time for a wholesale review before record books start to look obsolete.

The anglers were fishing on charter boat, Onyer Marks, out of Drummore on the Mull of Galloway in south-west Scotland. An excited Guy said later:

“The water so clear I could tell it was a big fish when it was 20ft foot down. This fish was beyond my wildest dreams and nearly double the size of my previous best.”

Boat skipper Ian Burrett, who is also the Projects Director for the SSTP, was equally excited:

Ian Burrett
Ian Burrett, Project Director, SSTP

“These fish are relative newcomers to our waters. Their northern migration route is changing possibly due to an increase in water temperatures; these and a few other incoming species show the potential for south-west Scotland to develop as a broad-based angling destination”.

The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network, (SSACN) one of the most respected organisations in the UK, says killing fish to claim records is not something it – and now many others – supports or promotes.

Some anglers want to see a specimen list based on length, but others doubt whether it is possible to create an official record book on this basis, given the variations within weight:length ratios.

Nonetheless, the catches are certain to raise wider interest in recreational sea angling around Scotland, which the Scottish Government is keen to promote.

Its economic study of the sport in 2009 concluded that the sector has “significant potential for growth” noting that “if Scotland were to achieve a 50% increase in sea angling activity levels this would secure a minimum of 1675 jobs, and could possibly add a further 840.”

The key to unlocking this potential it stated was ‘to ensure the availability of fish stocks for anglers to catch.” Something with which the two happy Paisley anglers should be congratulated for delivering.

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