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1st Stage: Conwy 18th & 19th May, £2000 1st place privateers prize

Pink Elasmobranchs – The effects of stress

A blonde ray comes to the boat

The BoatLife Fishing Championship is built upon sustainability and best practices. This core value extends through encouraging productive development from our branded teams, to encouraging participants to have a positive effect, but can also be seen through our event rules and best handling practices with regards to specific species. 

We’ve already outlined how large tope will not be taken onto the boats, and why pollack will not be a target species on the specimen hunt in Conwy. However, with hounds, tope, huss and rays meaning elasmobranchs making up four of the five target species, it’s worth spending some time discussing a clear indicator of elasmobranch stress, turning pink.

Most sea anglers will have witnessed this occurrence, at least in a moderate form, often on the tips of a thornback rays wings, or more severely on a dogfish that has stranded itself post release from a beach. Hounds and tope can be equally prone to it, usually first showing on their fins and only in extreme situations across their body. 

So, if it is caused by stress, what specifically causes it in terms of angling activity, and how can we limit it?

Extended fight times

The first cause can be an extended fight time, which tires the fish to such an extent that it starts to show signs of severe stress. Using gear appropriate to playing a tope, or large ray in tidal conditions will mitigate this considerably. 

Deep hooking

Many of us will have witnessed the subdued fight from a deep hooked fish, where it clearly exerts more stress on the fish. It is common for deeper hooked rays and shark species to show more signs of stress through pink extremities. Using circle hooks can help, and single hooks rather than pennels are both easier to clear without snagging the net, and result in far fewer deep hooked fish. 

Sadly, much of the causes that lead to skates, rays and sharks turning pink come at the handling stages, so whilst taking the above steps to mitigate areas that are far more out of your control can help, it is the following steps that are crucial. 

Landing a skate, ray or shark

The first thing to note is that there is never a reason to gaff any of these fish. An appropriate net will certainly deal with all of the species of elasmobranch in the Conwy event, with larger tope being measured beside the boat. When it comes to nets, favour a rubber mesh, as hooks are less likely to become caught up and entangled in it, so the whole landing and release process is quicker for the fish. 

Only land a fish if it is necessary. If it can be released in the water, do so. For instance, if you have already recorded 3 tope and you have one that is clearly smaller and thus there is no need to measure it, perform a quick release with a T bar or other appropriate disgorger boat-side. This also speeds up your angling, which is pretty vital in a competition setting. 

Unhooking elasmobranchs

Crushed barbs make this whole process much quicker, especially on larger fish where keeping a tight line throughout the fight will lead to very few fish losses. It is, however, also possible to crush a barb post capture before trying to remove a hook, especially one that is deep hooked. This can usually be done quite easily with a pair of long nose pliers, allowing the hook to easily slide back out. In extreme circumstances where the hook is out of sight, then cutting the line as close as possible to the hook is the best course of action. 

Always be prepared with the right set of tools for unhooking fish. Long nose pliers, T bars and wire cutters will have you prepared for all eventualities. 

Keep the fish wet at all times

Have a bucket of water ready, or salt water hose if your boat is equipped. Ensure the fish is kept wet at all times. A hose can be put into a topes mouth to flush water through the gills too, but this is usually done when extended processes such as tagging are needed aboard the boat. The odd splash of water over the fish to prevent it drying out will be sufficient for the time needed to take a quick measure. There should be no reason for this to take more than 30 seconds. 

Measuring the fish

Do NOT try and force a skate/ray curling its wings in back into a flat position and do NOT stretch a shark species, such as a huss, back out straight if it is curling itself up. If you keep the fish wet and calm, it is more likely to keep a natural position, the more you try and force it, the more it will reject. Keeping a fish out of water longer than is necessary, or applying undue pressure to the fish to force a few extra cm’s will not be accepted and may result in the fish being rejected, or worse, the team being deducted points or removed from the competition. 

Returning the fish

The fish should be handled at all times to support its underside, which elasmobranchs, with no skeletal structure, struggle to do out of water. The fish should be lowered into the water. Any anglers caught holding shark species up by their tails, rays just by their lips, or releasing any of these species by ‘slinging’ them back overboard one handed, will find themselves subject to review by the marshalls. 

If all of the above is done well and quickly, then the chance of an elasmobranch showing anything but the smallest signs of pink at the wing or fin tips is small. If, however, a fish does show extreme signs of this before being boated, you must make responsible decisions as anglers on a quick release, which may mean sacrificing the fish from the measure. Our marshals may, in any case, choose to reject any ray, skate or shark if it shows overly high levels of stress, in order to ensure maximum care is taken in the handling of these species. 

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1st Stage: Conwy 18th & 19th May, £2000 1st place privateers prize