Meet the volunteer who wrestles with sharks to help endangered species

Rather than standing behind the till at a charity shop or walking dogs at a local rescue, Ronald Surgenor volunteers by catching and tagging sharks (as well as other endangered species of fish).

His work as a shark and skate tagger is vital to help keep track of what is in the waters around Northern Ireland.

For Ronald, 48, from Holywood, Northern Ireland, it all started with a hobby he’d done since he was a child.

He tells ‘I’ve been fishing for 40-odd years and through that, I got involved with the Irish fisheries boards.

‘I was helping them with a project tagging fish from the year 2000 but in 2018, I heard about Ulster Wildlife’s Sea Deep project focusing on sharks, skate and endangered species.’

Tagging means conservation projects like Ulster Wildlife can collect information on the 20 known species of shark in Irish waters and take action to protect them.

The sharks and skates are usually caught by line fishing and pulled into the boat. Tags are attached to the fins in a way that won’t hurt the creature, before it is released back into the sea.

To become a shark and skate tagger, you need to complete a specialised course, and for some species, you need to have a licence.

Ronald says: ‘It’s important to go through the training with the Sea Deep project so you understand how to handle a fish, how to recognise signs of stress and do the minimum amount of harm.’

Although there aren’t any great whites or dangerous sharks in the areas where Ronald works, the role can be dangerous at times because of the conditions.

‘One the main species we are trying to tag is the flapper skate, which was formerly known as the common skate, but has been renamed because it is now so endangered,’ he explains.

‘To do that, you need to go out into deep water- around 300ft deep – and it’s specialised work.

‘The areas are quite exposed and the tide is strong so conditions have to be good. We’re always fishing on small boats and in bad weather, it could be quite difficult.’

While getting a flapper skate on board can be exciting, tagging one takes an experienced hand.

The whole process is done in about a minute, with the team on the boat ensuring they always have the tagging and DNA kit ready so as soon as the fish is landed they can work fast.

‘A flapper skate can be up to two and a half metres long and they can have pretty powerful jaws, so you don’t want to get your hand caught in one or you could get a fairly nasty bite,’ Ronald says.

Ronald has a good record though – he’s managed to tag 75% of the skate they’ve found so far.

With so few of the flapper skates around, however, he did once manage to catch the same one twice in one day, and then again six months later.

Volunteering and getting out on the water has become a huge part of Ronald’s life and he tries to do it as often as conditions allow.

‘I go out a few times a month if I can,’ he says.

‘I love being able to use my knowledge to help the fish and to get a better understanding.’

As well as getting out on the water, he helps Ulster Wildlife with workshops and training teaching other anglers about the best practices for tagging and handling fish.

Ronald has also worked full time as a Conservation Ranger for Ulster Wildlife for the last four years.

‘If I can make what I do as a way of life count towards conservation and help others learn, that can only be a good thing,’ he adds.

‘Fishing is something I loved doing anyway and I might as well do it in a way that can help.

‘I don’t really see it as volunteering my time but more as using my experience to help protect our fish stocks and encourage other anglers to come on board as volunteers.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Volunteers’ Week takes place 1-7 June and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved click here. 

Source: Read Full Article