New Red List of sharks published for Ireland
Sharks, rays and their relatives (skates and chimaeras) are one of the oldest and most ecologically diverse vertebrate lineages with more than 1,100 species worldwide. The group arose at least 420 million years ago and rapidly diversified to become one of the most species-rich groups of predators on earth. They include some of the latest maturing and slowest reproducing of all vertebrates, resulting in very low population growth rates with little capacity to recover from overfishing and other threats such as pollution or habitat destruction. As a result concerns have been raised worldwide about the risk of some sharks going extinct.
Irish waters contain 71 species, over half of the European list, encompassing a broad range of sharks, skates, rays and rabbitfish. The Irish region has species occurring in every habitat, from shallow coastal waters to the deep-sea and it supports both localised and highly migratory types. Irish waters are of key importance to many of these species, hosting critical breeding and/or nursery grounds. However, these waters are the focus of some of the most intense fishing effort in Europe.
A first Red List of cartilaginous fish (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras), showing risk of extinction, has now been published for Irish waters. Standardised Red List assessments and criteria, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were used. The all-Ireland assessment team involved experts from the Marine Institute, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the Irish Elasmobranch Group, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, the National Biodiversity Data Centre and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Of the 71 different species occurring in Irish waters, there was sufficient data to assess 58.
- Of the 58 species, 6 (10.3%) were assessed as Critically Endangered: Portuguese dogfish; common (blue) skate; flapper skate; porbeagle shark; white skate and angel shark.
- A further 5 species (8.6%) were assessed as Endangered: leafscale gulper shark; basking shark; common stingray; undulate skate and spurdog.
- An additional 6 (10.3%) species were assessed to be Vulnerable: longnose velvet dogfish; kitefin shark; tope; shagreen ray; longnose skate and cuckoo ray.
- Of the remaining species, 19 (32.8%) were assessed as Near Threatened and 22 species (37.9%) as Least Concern.
The main human impacts on threatened species are over-exploitation by commercial fisheries and habitat destruction and disturbance. There are no longer any directed fisheries for any of these endangered species in Irish waters, however, some are still taken as by-catch in several fisheries, involving both Irish and non-Irish vessels. Similarly, endangered and threatened species that straddle Irish and non-Irish waters are caught by fleets further afield. Although the targeted fisheries have ceased, population recovery is known to be very slow in certain species which were previously exploited, such as the basking shark, due to low productivity and late age at maturity.
Dr Maurice Clarke of the Marine Institute was lead author of the Red List: “The publication of this report is timely. In 2017, upon request of its parent department, the Marine Institute is prioritising work on rays, skates and dogfish, working with fishermen’s organisations and the NGO sector to develop long term management/conservation plans for these species,”
Dr Willie Roche, co-author on the publication, acknowledged the role of Inland Fisheries Ireland stakeholders: “They have contributed to this publication in the provision of a significant data set (ca. 30,000 records) from IFI’s Marine Sports Fish Tagging programme captured over a 45 year period.” Dr Cathal Gallagher of Inland Fisheries Ireland highlighted the value of the Red List: “This critical analysis will support the conservation of threatened species by providing a catalogue of their status, distribution and threats, while also signposting future research priorities. We look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders and agencies to ensure the effective management of these important species.”
Dr Tomás Murray, who represented the National Biodiversity Data Centre on the Red List assessment group, highlighted the cross-sectoral engagement on this publication: “11 different governmental and non-governmental organisations in the Republic and Northern Ireland worked on this project. The Red List demonstrates the willingness of all partners involved to collaborate and share data to produce the best assessment possible.”
Notes for Editors
The full citation for the document is:
Clarke, M., Farrell, E.D., Roche, W., Murray, T.E., Foster, S. and Marnell, F. (2016) Ireland Red List No. 11: Cartilaginous fish [sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras]. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Dublin, Ireland.
The shark database in NBDC now holds over 520,000 records spanning the period from 1800-2014 and will continue to be updated to support conservation research and future iterations of the Red List.
This is the 11th Red List to be published for Ireland. This Red List (and all previous Red Lists) can be downloaded from the website of the National Parks & Wildlife Service here: https://www.npws.ie/publications/red-lists