Plans to persuade housewives, restaurants and schools to serve up tope, a harmless shark from the seas around Britain and develop home and export markets for them, were condemned at the weekend.


Killing large numbers of the fish could upset the UK’s buoyant £1 billion recreational sea angling industry which is supported by over a million anglers, according to Richard Ferré of the National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA).


“Tope are one of the few large fish left in British waters to attract sport fishermen. They are found off south west Scotland, west Wales, the Bristol Channel, and the south and east coasts. 


“Creating a market will encourage fishermen from all over the country to go after them.  There will be a quick killing and the stocks ruined,” said Mr Ferre who is chairman of the NFSA conservation group.  “The government is considering banning commercial fishermen from landing them. “


Trevor Page, managing director of fish merchants WET Mullender in Lowestoft, set the anglers’ alarm bells off when he told Fishing News his company had developed an export market for the larger fish and now needed to “explore all ways of making the smaller fish more popular such as studying their cuisine and educating the end-user – housewives, restaurants and schools, and perhaps processing. 


“Even the fins are of value in some Far Eastern countries.”


Tope are slow to mature and females are 10-11 years before they breed.  They are rarely eaten in Britain and sea anglers return them alive to the water. The fish travel long distances. 


Some caught off south west Scotland released after being tagged, have been caught again in the Azores.


There is no quota for tope so providing they are over the minimum landing size, which is smaller than being large enough breed, commercial fishing boats may take as many as they can catch.


“This sort of behaviour is why our fish stocks are a shadow of what they were. The only reason there are any tope is because they have no commercial value,”  Mr Ferré added   


Malcolm Gilbert, fisheries liaison officer of the NFSA said the fish were “extremely vulnerable” and took many years to recover once they are overfished. 


“Any commercial exploitation is likely to be a short-lived affair because once targeted, the number of tope is likely to diminish rapidly, with no prospect of an early recovery.”


The species was ideally suited to being wholly managed for recreational angling for its own long term future, he added.