Sea anglers enlisted in project to help long term survival of sharks and rays
Not everyone loves them, but sharks are in trouble Martin Hesp has been finding out about a scheme in which Westcountry anglers are helping to safeguard their future.
Sharks might have been around for an estimated 400 million years, which is far longer than most other creatures – but they are not very good at coping with the modern world. Now Westcountry anglers are joining a unique project that will help conservationists find out more about how sharks are faring in our waters.
The Angler Recording Project (ARP) is organised by the Shark Trust which says that a better knowledge of this diverse group of species is fundamental in establishing a more sustainable future for sharks in the north east Atlantic.
The "citizen science project" is well established and this coming spring and summer the Trust hopes to stage its biggest ever programme of record-taking around Westcountry coasts.
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Trust conservation officer John Richardson told the Western Morning News: "This year the Heritage Lottery Funded project will be encouraging sea-anglers in the South West to share their elasmobranch catch records with us."
Elasmobranchii is the proper term for the subclass of cartilaginous fish, that includes sharks (Selachii) and rays and skates (Batoidea) and Mr Richardson says the objective of the project is not to stop sea-anglers enjoying the excitement of catching sharks, but to develop a "solid working knowledge on the abundance and distribution of species found and caught in local waters".
"As the dataset grows, we will develop a better idea of which species are being caught by anglers, in what number and where," he said, adding that most sharks caught by rod and line are measured, weighed and returned unharmed to the sea.
Mr Richardson said anglers need not be worried about giving away the whereabouts of their favourite shark-catching haunts as the Trust kept such data confidential, but that the general information would be made available to all interested stakeholders.
"The potential of sea-angling as a data source is significant, with more than 240,000 residents of the South West identifying themselves as sea-anglers, while visitors to the region spend an estimated 750,000 days sea-angling each year," said Mr Richardson.
"Sea-angling in the South West has emerged as not only an important recreational pastime, but also a key economic driver, generating £165 million in expenditure annually, as well as supporting more than 3000 jobs."
Altogether some 50 species have been recorded in UK waters – though some of these are only ever seen by researchers and commercial fishermen. Others, like the common eagle ray and the smooth hammerhead are extremely rare visitors.
Anglers in the South West encounter around 15 species on a regular basis – and they regard sharks and rays as the second favourite catch after bass.
"To date over 1000 elasmobranchs have been recorded by the project from 265 fishing trips," Mr Richardson told us. "Shark catches are dominated by the small spotted catshark (known to anglers as the dogfish), starry smoothhound and blue sharks – while blonde and thornback rays are the most commonly caught rays.
"The project currently has a range of recorders, including individual anglers, charter skippers, as well as a number of official 'fish recorders' and presidents of sea-angling clubs throughout the South West."
"In time the data will show trends in the number of sharks being caught and where," explained the Trust conservation officer. "Which, in conjunction with other fisheries datasets, could highlight population shifts, growth or decline for some species."
One reason for the decline is that shark populations do not recover as readily as those of bony fish, even if fishery controls and legal catch limits are imposed."
The Shark Trust was established in 1997 in recognition of the need for an independent voice for shark conservation
For more information on the Angler Recording Project and how to get involved go towww.sharktrust.org/anglers or email John Richardson firstname.lastname@example.org – or phone the Shark Trust on 01752 672020.