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Spanish or Axillary Sea Bream (Pagellus acarne) captured in the Shannon Estuary

While angling in the Shannon Estuary, off Cappagh Pier, Co Clare on 27 August 2020, Clive Morgan captured and released several Spanish or Axillary Sea Bream (Pagellus acarne). The specimens, which measured c.20 cm in length, represent the first confirmed records of P. acrane from Irish waters.

Although Spanish Sea Bream are commonly found southwards from the Bay of Biscay to Senegal (including Madeira, Canaries and Cape Verde Islands) and the Mediterranean, where it is commercially important, the species is regarded as extremely rare in NW European waters, particularly northwards of the English Channel. Indeed, since 1833, only 26 specimens have been authenticated, including the northernmost record which was captured during September 1966 off the Väderöarna Islands, Bohuslän, SW Sweden (Skagerrak) [58.6oN, 11.1oE].

Spanish or Axillary Sea Bream (Pagellus acarne) captured by Clive Morgan in the Shannon Estuary

The species has rarely been recorded from the North Sea, with half of the reports dating the 19th century. During July 1836, two specimens were captured near Musselburgh, in the Firth of Forth, on the east coast of Scotland, and two more off Beadnell (Northumbria) and Whitby (Yorkshire) during December 1867 and January 1887 respectively. During the last century, two specimens were recorded from Danish waters (September 1961 and August 1987), and two more from Dutch waters (May 1969 and June 1972). More recently (prior to 2015), a specimen was reported from SW Scotland.

Juvenile Spanish Sea Bream are generally found in inshore waters at depths of 20-100 m, whereas adults occur in offshore waters from the surface down to 500 m. On 24 February 2017, the MFV Olgarry (SO591) [Skipper: Marty McGing, Killybegs] captured a specimen while trawling off NW France (Marine Times, September 2017). The specimen, which measured 265 mm and weighed 236 g, was donated to the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

Spanish Sea Bream are relatively small, attaining a maximum length and weight of 38 cm and 600 g respectively. The species is a sequential protandric hermaphrodite, changing from a functional male to a functional female at a length of 14-29 cm. The current UK rod & line record, weighing 236 g, was captured during 1995 off SW Guernsey (English Channel). The IGFA World Rod & Line record, weighing 600 g, was captured off Anglet (Southern Biscay, France) during June 2001. The occurrence of this warm-water fish species in Irish waters may be related to increasing sea water temperatures in the NE Atlantic.