A project to gather evidence for a population of one of the world’s rarest sharks has been launched in Welsh waters. Once widespread across Europe, the Angelshark is now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species), with the waters around the Canary Islands being the only place where they are frequently sighted.
However there have been an increasing number of sightings of these rare fish off the Welsh coast in recent years.
Now scientists from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and ZSL (Zoological Society of London) are teaming up with fishermen and others all along the coast of Wales to find out more about our native Angelshark population.
As part of the project people are being asked to report all accidental catches of the shark, and being given advice on how to handle and release them safely back into the water unharmed.
Angelsharks can grow up to around two and a half metres (around eight feet) in length. They are also known as monk or monkfish by fishermen in the region.
They are not threatening to humans, living mainly on sand or mud at the bottom of the sea, preying on small fish and molluscs.
Ben Wray, Marine Biodiversity Ecologist at Natural Resources Wales, said: “Commercial fishermen and anglers have been reporting more sightings of Angelsharks in recent years.
“We know very little about the ecology of the shark in Welsh waters at the moment – the population could be present all year round, or only for part of the year.
“The fact that commercial fishermen and anglers along the coast of Wales are helping us with this research is really important, and we are very grateful to them for their help.
“We hope that the data we gather will help us build a much better picture of the situation and help our work to conserve these amazing creatures.
Jim Evans of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, said: “The value of local ecological knowledge is often over looked, fishermen are important sentinels of the sea and understand the importance of maintaining biodiversity.
“Angelsharks have been observed by fishermen off the Welsh coast for many years, to have the opportunity to improve our understanding of the Welsh population dynamics is an important collaboration that is welcomed by and a credit to Welsh fishermen.”
The Angel Shark Project, a collaboration between ZSL, Spain’s University of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and Germany’s Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK) have been working on Angelshark conservation in the Canary Islands for the last three years.
Joanna Barker, Project Manager at ZSL and Co-Lead of the Angel Shark Project said: “It’s fantastic to deploy some of the techniques we’ve developed to better conserve Angelsharks in the Canary Islands so we can better understand the remnant population identified in Welsh waters.
“We hope that working with fishers in the region will be a start of a much larger project to better understand and conserve Angelsharks in Wales.
“This is one of the last places you can find Angelsharks throughout Europe, so please do report your sightings or accidental captures to http://angelsharknetwork.com/#map and help us better understand these fascinating but Critically Endangered creatures.”
The guidance produced as part of the project also involved collaboration with The Shark Trust and the Welsh Fishermen’s Association.