A Tale of Four Exceptional Fish for Friday

Posted on: September 9th, 2011 by Andrew Syvret No Comments

Surely no-one will make the claim that Summer 2011 was normal? Four 'exotic' fish caught by anglers around Jersey since early June serve well to remind us that La Manche is a 'crossroads' for many marine organisms. Pioneer individuals, regularly expanding the range of their species' known distribution, marking important new points on an ecological map…



It was the morning of Wednesday 8th June, when Mr Fish rang to let me know he had something unusual in the shop, not for the first time, caught by 'Lee and Gary'. Landed the previous day from the west coast, after taking a live sandeel bait, I'd actually been waiting to see this fish for a number of years. To add to his local European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) record, Lee Allen had likely established the opening British boat caught record for the European spotted sea bass (D. punctatus). A very occasional visitor to the English Channel from warmer waters further south, I had seen just one spotted bass before in the Bailiwick, gill-netted on the southeast coast in 1996. With average sea temperatures in the Channel rising and unconfirmed reports of the odd specimen turning up on the English coast in commercial catches, it was only a matter of time before an angler brought one home. At c. 2lb 4oz or 1.021Kg on the scales, a schoolie by standard sea bass size (D. punctatus rarely grows to much more than 5lb or 2.27Kg), but nonetheless a remarkable capture.



Call Two from Mr Fish came on 12th August; “Niall Sayers caught a Spanish mackerel yesterday, it's in the fridge if you'd like to take a look”. Sure enough, he had, Scomber japonicus. Weighing 1lb 6oz 12drams or 0.645Kg, it too had fallen for a live sandeel, this time fished in deep water over a sandbank to the northwest of the Island. Coincidentally, I watched Niall beating his way past Grosnez Point on passage from the cliffs the day before. Super-abundant, highly mobile, very heavily fished in some parts of the world and also known as the 'chum' mackerel, S. japonicus seldom makes it as far north as the more familiar 'blue' mackerel S. scombrus. With a larger dorsal fin, head and eye, any angler accustomed to catching 'regular' mackerel will be able to tell the difference at first glance. The present British boat caught record for the Spanish mackerel is 1lb 5oz 4drams or 0.602Kg.


To follow came another member of the tuna family, an Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda) on 20th August. With a weight of 5lb 2oz 5drams or 2.333Kg, it must have faced its captor Colin Huelin with quite a struggle on tackle more suited to gentle mackerel fishing. Although according to the Angling Trust website the present British boat caught record for Atlantic bonito is 8lb 13oz 8drams or 4.004Kg (caught from Torbay in South Devon in 1969), there is currently no Jersey rod caught record for the species, so Colin's fish makes the first entry here. This Atlantic bonito was the second specimen recorded from the Corbière area, the previous one, netted by 'Lee and Gary' was identified by yours truly in September 2000. Another similar fish was taken commercially from Rozel in November 2004. Atlantic bonito can grow to be 91cm in length and 18lb or 8.3Kg. Interestingly, a number of other tuna species including a juvenile bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) have been reported from the English Channel this summer.



Finally, midway through the annual Jersey Open Shore Angling Festival, came another excited phone call from one of the organisers; ”I think we've got a British record white bream in front of us, would you mind confirming sometime soon?”. No question: Bryan Swain, south coast shore, 31st August, garfish bait, 2lb 6oz 12drams or 1.099Kg = new British record. Until recently, Jersey was almost certainly the only place in the British Isles where an angler could reasonably hope to catch a white sea bream or 'sargo' (Diplodus sargus), a species  usually restricted to warmer waters. In the last few years juveniles have also started to appear in the other Channel Islands, but so far mature adults seem to be confined to shallow seas in the sheltered corner of  the Gulf Normano-Breton. Starting life as males, some white bream become females in later life. The first youngsters found locally were collected in 1991 from the old hotwater outlet at La Collette Power Station on the western boundary of the Southeast Coast of Jersey Ramsar Site. Since then they have grown on, apparently to establish a viable population - divers report frequent sightings and a small shoal can often be seen in the Queen Elizabeth II Marina, St Helier. Curiously, the first white sea bream angling record (of >1lb or 0.454Kg) was taken by Anthony Gavey in August 2003, his cousin Simon caught a larger one later the same year. Subsequently, Anthony's Uncle Jack - Simon's father, held the record - that's Jersey for you. Several interim records are also in the pipeline, I believe.
Four notable fish. And Autumn, typically the most fruitful season for 'oddities', has only just begun. If you have any comments, catch or see anything unusual ~ let me know.
A post about fish on a Friday might become a bit of a habit ~ look out for jerseyfish.com in time…
À bétôt!
& a quick edit (13 Sept 2011) ~ link to report of another 'special' fish from Richard Lord in Guernsey: