Rare species found deep down

THE LOCAL whitefish trawler Guardian Angell has been clocking up its rare fish finds. A 5ft long deal fish, Trachipterus arcticus was caught at the start of the month, while last week’s finds included an Atlantic fanfish, Pterycombus brama and then a pair of rays bream Brama brama.

The fanfish and bream were all caught on fishing grounds close to Skerries and, coincidentally, at a similar time and location to the pair that the same boat caught last year. The fish were donated to the NAFC Marine Centre for addition to its species collection.

Dr Chevonne Laurenson of the centre explained that reports of deal fish being caught around Shetland and being washed up on beaches started two to three years ago. Before that fishermen had never seen them.

Deal fish are very distinctive. They are ribbon-like, growing to up to three metres in length. They are silver in colour with several large dark spots along their sides and they have bright red fins. They occur throughout much of the northern North Atlantic and, according to textbooks, live pelagically at depths between 300m and 600m.

The Atlantic fanfish, also known as pomfret, belongs to the bream family. They are identified by having large scales along the bases of their fins that form a sheath into which the fins can fold. The fin rays are long with a thin black membrane between each ray. Information on the species is limited but they seem to occur, mainly offshore, through most of the North Atlantic and are reported to spawn at the shelf edge to the east of Florida.

The one caught last week was, at 39 cm, close to the maximum size. It was a female fish and had been feeding on pout. A similar specimen, caught by the Adenia to the west of St Kilda in the spring of 2004, is the only other example that has been brought into the centre for identification.

Ray’s bream are known for forming pairs. The species can occur throughout the North Atlantic but also in the South Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. They generally live in water between 12°C and 24°C (53 – 75 F) and at depths to 400m. Their fins are distinctive as they are covered in scales.

The female caught last week was 54 cm long and had been feeding on pout and cuttlefish, while the male was 55 cm and had remains of pout in its stomach. Another specimen that had been caught to the west of Shetland a couple of weeks ago has been brought in for identification.

Dr Laurenson said: “From the examples of fish that are brought to us and from those that we hear about through talking to fishermen, it does seem as though increasing numbers of rare species are being caught around Shetland.

“While there may be an element of fishermen being more prepared to let us know of these catches, I believe that in general, it is a reflection of the changes that are occurring in the marine environment.”

Staff at NAFC are always keen to hear of any rare or unusual species being caught and are glad to help with identifications.


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