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‘Extinct’ angelshark returns to Adriatic

'Extinct' angelshark returns to Adriatic

Angelshark (Photo credit: Philippe Guillaume/CC BY 2.0)

ZAGREB, 28 March (Hina) – Three years ago, shoppers at the fish market at Zagreb’s Dolac open-air farmers market noticed a baby angelshark, which made conservations both excited and worried. 

The angelshark is one of the calmest and most endangered shark species, considered almost extinct in the Adriatic.

The juvenile angelshark at Zagreb’s Dolac market “indicated that there exists a breeding population, however, what was worrying was the fact that an endangered and strictly protected species was offered for sale,” said Pero Ugarković, an associate on a research project on angelsharks in the Adriatic.

After that discovery, a research was launched to establish how many angelsharks live in the Adriatic.

The project was headed by the WWF Adria non-profit organisation in cooperation with the Split-based Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

Its results show that the angelshark population, once inhabiting the whole of the Adriatic, has shrunk dramatically and now inhabits mostly the area around the island of Molat in the Zadar archipelago.

Almost all shark species in Adriatic innocuous to humans

The angelshark resembles the skate and is a master of camouflage. It buries itself in sediment and ambushes its prey, and it can grow to be more than a metre and a half long. It lives in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic but is critically endangered in all of its habitats.

More than 30 shark species have so far been recorded in the Adriatic and almost all are innocuous to humans. The size of the angelshark population in the Adriatic was once significant, and fishermen even used nets designed specifically for angelsharks.

That has not been the case for decades now, however, footage of angelsharks being caught accidentally and returned to the sea, which is sometimes posted on social networks, gives rise to hope that the angelshark will survive.

The species grows slowly, it reaches reproductive age late in life, has a small number of litters and is therefore very vulnerable to fishing pressures. On top of that, it inhabits shallow coastal waters where fishing is very intense. After it was declared a protected species, it turned from a target species to a bycatch.

The fate of the angelshark best evidences the danger bycatch poses to all vulnerable Adriatic species.

Patrik Krstinić, an associate for sea and marine biodiversity protection at WWF Adria, warns that fishing with trawl nets and gillnets poses the biggest threat to the angelshark. He believes that the angelshark is unlikely to survive with the existing pressure of fishing in Croatia’s coastal area.

'Extinct' angelshark returns to Adriatic

(Photo credit: Philippe Guillaume/CC BY 2.0)

Krstinić says that maritime spatial planning is necessary and that currently 30% of the sea should be put under protection until 2030, of which 10% should be strictly protected, with no fishing activity allowed, citing in that context the Jabuka Pit as a good example.

Deficient legal regulations are the problem, he says, noting that they make it possible for an area to be put under protection, yet some are allowed to fish in it.

Krstinić notes that the silver lining in this situation is that without human impact in an area, its biodiversity is restored very quickly.

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