Declan Quigley, biologist and SFPA Senior Port Office based in Howth explains why the Quilty marbled electric ray (above) is the first recorded in Ireland
Following on from the story in the Clare Champion last week, several of our dedicated readers at The Fishing Daily believe they have caught similar electric rays in Irish waters before the Quilty specimen was caught by Tom Galvin and his crew on the MFV Emma Elizabeth.
The historic catch of a marbled electric ray by Tom Galvin’s boat was documented by marine biologist Declan Quigley of Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. “This is the first confirmed Irish record,” he told The Champion. “There was one caught off the south coast of Waterford previously, but not in Irish waters. The species would be most common in the Mediterranean, it’s a warm water species. There would be odd straggler in the North Sea from time to time.”
Mr Quigley noted that the presence of the ray in Irish Waters may be an indication of rising sea temperatures. “It could be down to oceanographic changes,” he said. “However, it is also possible that there are a number of these rays present in Irish waters but haven’t been caught and documented before.”
It was noted that Irish fishermen were catching electric rays in the 70’s, some have been caught as far north as the Stanton Bank, and some have described seeing them as black in colour, which they can be.
In order to clear-up the questions, we have contacted Declan Quigley, biologist and SFPA Senior Port Office based in Howth Co Dublin with a few queries as to why the Quilty electric ray was the first recorded catch in Irish waters.
Why is this marbled electric ray is classified as the first one being recorded in Ireland? Can a definition be provided?
Two species Electric Ray are known to occur in NW European waters: Common Electric Ray (Torpedo nobiliana) [now classified as Tetronarce nobiliana] and Marbled Electric Ray (Torpedo marmorata) [Quigley 2010]. The Common Electric Ray (T. nobiliana), as the name suggests, is relatively common and is not infrequently captured (and usually discarded) by both commercial and recreational fishers in Irish waters.
The Marbled Electric Ray (T. marmorata) is a warm-water Mediterranean species which has rarely been recorded northwards of the English Channel (Quigley 2020). Both species are relatively easy to tell apart. The Marbled Electric Ray has a very distinctive brown mottled colouration on the dorsal surface and 6-8 large tentacles surrounding each of the spiracles (situated behind the eyes). The Common Electric Ray is usually coloured dark grey-black on the dorsal surface and lacks tentacles around the spiracles.
How would any of the fishers who said they caught a marbled electric ray before the one in Co Clare go about proving they caught one?
Fishers who believe they have caught Marbled Electric Rays previously in Irish or other NW European Waters can supply retrospective images of their catches to Declan Quigley who will try and confirm their identity. The SFPA would encourage anyone who finds unusual specimens to bring their discoveries to their local SFPA port office, so that their identity can be confirmed and recorded.
Sharks, skates and rays are among the most threatened species encountered by commercial and recreational fishers. Commercial fishers are reminded that under the Landing Obligation, all skates and rays have a survivability exemption, which means they can be legally returned to the water if alive. Through responsible handling of the skates and rays, those returned to the sea are more likely to survive (see attached Shark Trust/SFPA Fisheries Advisories on handling). This contributes towards stock recovery. Clear the net as quickly as possible and return them to the water prior to sorting the commercial catch (see attached Shark Trust/SFPA Fisheries Advisories on best practice). Discards of over 50kg must be recorded. However, any discard information can be reported by fishers, as this can improve knowledge on data limited species. This information can improve understanding of stocks, inform stock assessments and could, in time, contribute to a less precautionary approach to management.