Last week a bill was proposed to the Dáil (the Irish parliament) to amend Section 23 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 to include the Basking Shark in the Fifth Schedule of the Act. This would provide legal protection to the shark in Irish territorial waters. The bill was proposed by Jennifer Whitmore, Social Democrat TD for Wicklow. Jennifer, a former marine biologist herself, worked with the Irish Basking Shark Group to find the right mechanism to propose protected status.
Basking sharks are endangered in the Northeast Atlantic and global population estimates indicate that the west and Northern Irish seaboard are part of the single most internationally important coastal regions for this species. Basking sharks occupy territorial waters and the Irish EEZ throughout the year. The number of breeding individuals has been estimated at approximately 8,000-10,000 worldwide. More recently, a new study estimated that the number of basking sharks frequenting the Isle of Man and Scottish waters was in the region of 4,000 and the population in Northeast Atlantic waters is unlikely to exceed 10,000 individuals. This suggest a high proportion of the global population may at times occur in Irish waters. Liabhán chor gréine, or the Great Fish of the Sun, is an iconic species and we have a global responsibility to ensure its long-term survival.
Ireland and our coastal communities have historically benefited from basking shark fisheries and today we have a duty to provide protection for this highly mobile species when they occupy Irish territorial waters and the wider EEA. Adding the species to Schedule Five of the Wildlife Act (1976) as amended, is the simplest method to provide protection for the species in Irish territorial waters and will help Ireland to meet its commitments under OSPAR and other international treaties. It is protected in UK, including Northern Irish waters and tracking studies have shown huge connectivity between these territorial waters. Ireland must provide the same level of protection in order to protect the migratory routes of this highly mobile marine species.
Key threats to basking sharks in Irish waters include ship strike, harassment and disturbance, incidental bycatch and habitat degradation. Approximately 1% of the population exhibit signs of collisions with vessels. Close quarters disturbance and harassment from boaters, jet-ski’s, divers, snorkelers occurs regularly during the summer months in specific areas off the Irish coast. An Irish Code of Conduct underpinned by legislation, is required to guide responsible and safe interaction with the species in Irish waters. A recent Irish report on fisheries landing obligations indicated that the basking shark, amongst other threatened and vulnerable shark species are regularly bycaught in all ICES fishing zones within the Irish EEA.
As part of our support we are asking all those in favour to sign a petition. We will present this petition to Minister Malcolm Noonan when the Wildlife Act will hopefully be open for amendments. Please support us by signing the petition below:
To keep up to date with basking shark news in Ireland, you can also sign up for our monthly newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/9016477ca279/ibsg-newsletter-may.