Ireland's Smooth-Hound Sharks Under Threat from Troubled Fishing Practices


Photo via Edward Farrell via Press Release

The starry smooth-hound shark is considered an abundant species off the Irish coast, and they were thought to grow and reproduce quickly. However, new research shows that they actually take twice as long to mature as previously thought, and produce just one pup every two years. Knowing this, along with the fact that they're a sought-after species on the European continent, means conservationists have a new species to worry about. "Some of the findings are quite worrying for the species as males don't mature until they are 4-5 years old and females until they are 6 years old," Dr. Edward Farrell stated in a press release. "Females also appear to take two years to complete the reproductive cycle. The pups develop inside the female for approximately 12 months before being born after which the female has a resting period of about another year before she is capable of becoming pregnant again."

Sharks are known for being slow to mature and reproduce, as most apex predators are. It is a way of balancing out ecosystems and ensuring that there aren't too many predators for the available food supply. But when humans are fishing sharks faster than they can replace themselves, it spells doom for not just the sharks, but the habitats they help regulate.

The issue of the starry smooth-hound shark is equated to that of spurdog sharks -- once the most abundant species in the Northeast Atlantic, they were hunted to near extinction in the 1980s. They're now critically endangered. Without regulated fishing, the same could happen to the starry smooth-hound, and really to any shark species.

Currently, sharks are hunted by the millions, primarily for their fins which are used in pricey soups. Getting countries to not only regulate how sharks are fished but also enforce the regulations is an uphill battle that even the US is struggling with. But with research providing more accurate information on how delicate the species is in terms of growth and reproduction, regulations that help keep the starry smooth-hound's populations stable will be easier to set. Already, nearly 2,500 tons of starry smooth-hounds are fished each year, so regulating numbers will be important to keep them out of danger.

"There are currently no management measures for this species in European waters mainly due to the lack of biological information," says Farrell. "So our main aim was to gather the necessary data. Hopefully this can be used now to ensure their sustainability and prevent a repeat of the overexploitation seen in Mediterranean waters."

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | Oceans

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