Slipper Lobster, Crosshaven, Co Cork
As World Fisheries Day is marked across the globe on the 21st November 2020, Declan Quigley, biologist and Senior Port Officer with the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in Howth, Co Dublin, is calling on the fishing community as well as the public to keep a lookout year round for rarely recorded and unusual aquatic life in a bid to increase our knowledge of Ireland’s marine biodiversity. Anyone who finds unusual specimens is asked to bring their discoveries to their local SFPA port office, so that their identity can be confirmed and recorded.
“Understandably, most of the focus in Ireland and elsewhere is on learning more about commercial fish stocks, those that we would expect to find on a typical fish counter. However, a total of 567 species of fish have been recorded from Irish territorial waters yet only about 10% of these are fished commercially and less than 5% are subject to on-going stock assessments and fisheries management¹. Little is known about the biology of the vast majority of the non-commercial fish species in Irish waters, although they represent an important component of our National Marine Biodiversity and an essential part of our marine ecosystems. Citizen Scientists can help to fill that knowledge gap,” says Mr. Quigley who has published more than 375 fisheries related research papers².
Some of the more unusual fish species recently recorded for the first time in Irish waters include the Spanish Sea Bream, Red Porgy, Marbled Electric Ray and Red Scorpion Fish, all of which are more commonly found in much warmer waters to the south of Ireland. Similarly, some warm-water invertebrate species such as Slipper Lobsters, have only recently been recorded from Irish waters. Mr. Quigley suggested that the recent occurrence of these sub-tropical and Mediterranean species in Irish waters may be due to the general increase in sea water temperatures in the North Atlantic over the last few decades which could potentially lead to greater stocks of these fish and invertebrates more accustomed to warmer temperatures occurring in Irish waters during the coming years.
“The potential contribution of Citizen Science to increasing our knowledge about marine life in Irish waters is enormous. There are only a small number of full-time fisheries scientists and fisheries research vessels in Ireland, whereas there are over 2000 commercial fishing vessels and 406,000 recreational fishers³ (Anon 2013). In addition, hundreds of SCUBA divers and thousands of people explore Ireland's extensive shoreline on a regular basis and are another untapped source who can provide very useful observations on marine life,” he added. Although fish represent by far the largest vertebrate group in Irish waters, they currently account for only about 1% of the 4 million records of mainly terrestrial species recorded by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/).
According to Mr. Quigley commercial and recreational fishers have already been making a significant contribution to knowledge about Ireland’s marine biodiversity for many years by collecting rarely recorded species for scientific studies. Indeed, “It has been estimated that up to 80% of the rarely recorded and unusual species in the collections of the Natural History Museum in Dublin were donated by commercial fishers,” he concluded.
For a full list of the SFPA port offices, please visit SFPA.ie
¹ Anon (2019) The Stock Book. Report to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Annual Review of Fish Stocks in 2019 with Management Advice for 2020. Marine Institute, Oranmore, Co Galway. 511 pp.
³Anon (2013) Socio-Economic Study of Recreational Angling in Ireland. Tourism Development International, Dun Laoghaire on behalf of Inland Fisheries Ireland, Dublin (July 2013). 121 pp.
About the SFPA
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) is the independent statutory body responsible for the regulation of the sea-fisheries and the sea-food production sectors. It promotes compliance with the EU Common Fisheries Policy, sea-fisheries law and food safety law relating to fish and fish products, verifies compliance and, where necessary, enforces it. Its mandate covers all fishing vessels operating within Ireland’s 200-mile limit, over 2,000 Irish registered fishing vessels wherever they operate and all seafood produced in Ireland’s seafood processing companies. The SFPA operates through a network of regional port offices situated at Ireland’s main fishery harbours. For further information visit: www.sfpa.ie