Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 11:14 UK

Shark tagging mission under way

A Sharkatag event is currently under way in the waters off the Dumfries and Galloway Coast. Organised by the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network, it hopes to provide valuable data on shark numbers and behaviour.

BBC News Scotland correspondent Lorna Gordon joins a group of anglers in pursuit of an unusual catch.


Ian Burrett from the Conservation Network explains how to tag a shark

I have come to join some anglers for the day who are in pursuit of a rather unusual catch.

Paul Maris and Dave Hawkeswood travel all over the world in search of big fish.

They have come to Luce Bay, in south west Scotland, because it is an area considered a hot spot for one particular type of shark.

They are hoping to catch, and release, some tope.

The inshore shark can grow up to two metres in length.

Our skipper for the day, Ian Burrett, says there used to be 18 species of shark in the waters around Britain but many of them are now in trouble and that, he says, includes the tope.

So it is just possible that today's mission to find some may be a slow process.

ADVICE TO ANGLERS ON HANDLING AND TAGGING TOPE
If possible, release without taking out of the water
Tope skin can cause painful burns to exposed areas so hold with two hands
Have all tagging equipment to hand in order to minimise time out of water
Try to bring fish in horizontally supporting the abdomen as sharks have no ribcage and internal organs can be damaged
A towel soaked in sea water placed over its head usually pacifies a tope
When releasing the fish hold its head into the tide to get oxygen back into its gills
Once the tope starts to kick it is a good indication it has recovered enough to be released

As Paul Maris points out, "the hard bit is catching them...".

To a non-angler like me, the key seems to be to find the mackerel, and then just maybe you may find the sharks which like the taste of the little fish.

We were lucky, within half an hour a young one - perhaps a year old - had taken a bite of the bait.

They have to be handled gently. Tope have extremely sharp teeth, they also have very rough skin which is almost like sandpaper, and once they are caught the priority is to ensure both angler and fish remain unharmed.

Mr Burrett said: "Each tag has an individual number on it and the numbers are put onto a database.

"Once we have tagged this fish, if the fish is captured then the address is on it. We will get the data for where it had swum to, where it has been.

"I'll also estimate its weight, and all this information will help us find out more about stock fluctuations, stock migrations and stock dynamics."

So, in as short a period of time as possible, the first tope of the day is tagged and then gently released back into the water.

This is, according to our anglers, the reason all the waiting is worthwhile.

Conservationists believe the number of tope has declined dramatically in recent years, and they are now classed as endangered.

Ian Burrett added: "I have been operating since 1988 and in that time I've seen 20 species that can now been considered as either locally extinct, or only caught as juveniles."

But they're hoping for more evidence to back up their theories, and so are encouraging anglers to take part in a tagging event to tag as many sharks as possible.

And the tagging process has already revealed some interesting information.

Trawler catch

It seems the sharks are creatures of habit.

One fish was re-caught at the very same spot four years to the day from when it was first tagged.

This is a fish which is believed to be migratory - swimming more than 3,000km to as far as the Azores.

Much of the information about tagged fish comes from trawlers - that's where they often end up.

Tope Shark
Anglers off south west Scotland hope to tag a number of sharks

Although they are known as soupfin shark; part of the reason their numbers have declined so dramatically is that they are a by-catch.

As all sharks mature slowly they are vulnerable to overfishing.

England and Wales have given the tope full protection, Scotland has not.

Ian Burrett, who sees himself as a guardian of the sea, hopes that will soon change.

He said: "They just fascinate me and I find it very annoying that man can let something that was prevalent in the sea reduce to such levels. Something has to be done to try and protect them."



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SEE ALSO
Shark watchers' appeal over tag
28 Oct 08 |  South West Wales

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