18th January

Anglers catch 607 specimen fish in 2010

Brendan Connolly

As an angler, you know your local fishing waters best - be they fresh-water or sea. But, what happens if a sea angler wants to go pike fishing for a change, or if a coarse fisherman would like to try sea angling?

They may not know the best angling locations and therefore have to try and get local information of various areas to decide where to go. Local knowledge may not be easy to get if you don’t know any local anglers.

Angling journalist Mike Thrussell with a bluemouth

Angling journalist Mike Thrussell with a bluemouth

There is one source that provides anglers with information about any fish species caught on rod and line, in freshwater and sea alike, relating to the whole island of Ireland.

This is the Annual Report of the Irish Specimen Fish Committee, which is available free of charge from the Inland Fisheries Ireland, Swords Business Campus, Balheary Road, Swords, Co. Dublin. (www.fisheriesireland.ie)

Irish Specimen Fish Committee

The work carried out by this voluntary committee is invaluable. Founded in 1953, and with current chairman, Dr Trevor Champ and secretary, Dr Willie Roche of Inland Fisheries Ireland, the ISFC diligently compiles the data sent to them by anglers, many of whom are dedicated specimen hunters who have been fortunate enough to land one of these special fish.

Anglers can claim a specimen once the fish is over the threshold weight limit set for that species. These weight limits can be found in the Annual Report and on www.irish-trophy-fish.com.

The specimen weight is not the record weight, which is the weight of the heaviest individual of that species ever caught on rod and line in Ireland. The specimen weight is less than the record, typically by a quarter or one third. This means that in any year there may be just one or two, or no more than a couple of dozen specimen fish caught of a particular species.

A specimen is a noteworthy example of a species, and the angler marks this achievement by claiming the specimen award. This way he or she also records the details of the fish for posterity. For many species, the specimen data is the only information available on the status of a species – so the specimen report has a dual function in tourism and angling promotion, and, also in the scientific area, by providing verified information.

Claiming a specimen
For a fish to be accepted as an Irish specimen, its species name and weight needs to be verified. For this the fish must be weighed on a certified weighing scales, such as can be found in the local butchers or the post office, or you can get your own good quality scales certified by any of the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) verification centers listed in www.irish-trophy-fish.com/notices/weights_measures.htm

To ensure that the fish can be returned alive after weighing, it is useful to have a pike sack to maintain the fish in top condition. Fish-scales from the shoulder area are also needed for salmonid species, as the characteristic life history can be determined from them (scales are also used for genetic fingerprinting of cyprinid species).

For all species, a witness is needed to corroborate the catch, and for some species photographs are also required. The details are entered on the claims form and sent to: ISFC.

To identify some species, the actual body of the fish may be required. This should also be sent to ISFC, but good quality photographs will suffice for most species. (Check out the rules in the annual report, on the claim form, or on the website. The rules are strict to ensure each fish can be verified properly.)

Specimens in 2010
In 2010, ISFC received 718 claims of which 607 specimens were ratified for 11 freshwater and 35 marine species. While this indicates a good fishing season for 2010 (76 more specimens compared to 2009), there is another possible reason why specimen claims are on the increase, and this is the new technology of genetic fingerprinting together with improvements in camera technology that which allow anglers to obtain the required sample or photographs for biologists to identify the species being claimed.

It is now much easier to claim a specimen award and still return the fish live to the water. One problem with claiming a specimen caught on board a sea-angling boat is that the weighing scales cannot be used as the boat does not provide a stable platform for weighing. This means taking the fish to the shore, thereby endangering the fish.

Certain species, such as common skate, undulate ray, and monkfish, have been suspended from ISFC listings as these species are deemed endangered. Another way to solve this problem is not to rely on weight but on length measurement, which can be done onboard a moving boat. This is a method much in vogue in freshwater angling with pike fishermen, and allows recording in competitions without needing to keep the fish in a boat for long periods of time. For this reason, a new pilot scheme will be trialed in 2011 for tope whereby any tope over 160 cm in length can be claimed as a specimen.

Nevertheless, the 2010 season specimen fish awards do indicate that Ireland’s angling catches, both freshwater and marine, are in a healthy state. Some interesting trends have been seen. For instance, the most iconic species of them all, the mighty Atlantic salmon did not feature at all in the specimen awards in recent years, and was represented by just one specimen each in 2008 and 2009.

But in 2010 there were four specimen salmon, and it is hoped that this is the beginning of a trend, possibly helped by the drift netting ban on salmon introduced in 2007.

New fish species in Ireland
Another trend identified by the specimen fish information is the new arrivals to our shores from more southerly regions. Going back a couple of decades the odd triggerfish was caught mostly in lobster pots off the south coast. But recently more of these once exotic visitors are now being caught on rod and line and also as specimens.

Another exotic arrival to our coasts since 1995 is the gold-grey mullet, two specimens of which were recorded in 2010. Yet another marine fish seems to have arrived in just the last 5 years, and that is the gilt-head bream of which six specimens were caught off the south and south-east coasts. These marine species could be part of a gradual move northwards by species, brought about by warming of the sea due to climate change.

Some anglers specifically target specimen fish; these are the ‘specimen hunters’. Other anglers, to their joy, happen to hook a specimen during regular fishing trips.

But for all anglers, including those who have never caught a specimen, The Irish Specimen Fish Awards Scheme identifies the best angling locations throughout Ireland and the best time of year to fish them – on inland waters as well as seashore and offshore sea fishing.

This makes the ISFC Annual Report one of the most useful fishing guides in Ireland, with back-copies also available from http://www.irish-trophy-fish.com/.

Awards at a glance

  • the awards scheme is free of charge to anglers and supported entirely by donations
  • important tourist/internal angling (factual) marketing document is available on the ISFC website
  • rules are designed to ensure accurate identification of fish species, accurate recording of weight and capture details
  • rules are also being adapted to reflect developments in technology (greater accessibility to quality colour cameras for individual angler to allow for good identification photos, genetic id for some species, use of personal weighing scales (if certified annually by competent authority).

Principal donors are Inland Fisheries Ireland. The IFI also provides some staff resource to ensure that a good service is provided to the ISFC.

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