Strange and Unusual British Fish Records

There are a number of strange an unusual fish species which have been caught around the UK. While there are a number of fairly rare species which have UK shore caught records (such as Atlantic wolffish, tadpole fish and greater forkbeard). However, all of these species, although rare, have populations in British waters and live and breed around the British Isles. Although they may be rare they are still British fish species. The species listed below are, on the other hand, species which do not have native UK populations and can be seen as vagrant species – fish which have, for unknown reasons, ended up way outside of their natural habitat and ended up in British waters. These catches are by definition extremely rare, but all currently stand as verified UK shore caught records.

Pilot Fish

Pilot fish and Oceanic whitetip shark

  • Record: Towy Estuary, Carmarthenshire
  • Location of capture: 10oz

One of the most exotic fish ever caught in British waters is the pilot fish (Naucrates ductor). Pilot fish grow to around 75cm in length (but are usually half of this size) and are identifiable by their single dorsal fin, deeply forked tail and striking black/white striped colouration. They are usually found in the warm and tropical seas around the equator. They are often found swimming alongside much larger predatory sharks, which they form symbiotic relationships with. Pilot fish will pick parasites off the skin and out of the gill slits of sharks. It is very rare for sharks to eat pilot fish, with shark species seemingly aware that it is in their interests to allow the pilot fish to feed on the parasites which are on the shark. Indeed, pilot fish may even swim into the mouths of sharks and feed on scraps of rotting flesh from between the teeth of the shark. When found away from sharks they will scavenge on dead and rotting fish and invertebrates such as marine worms and prawns.

Pilot fish are not completely unheard of around the British Isles. There are unconfirmed reports that these fish have occasionally washed up dead on beaches in England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. However, they are very much seen as a vagrant species which, for unknown reasons, have travelled from their warm water habitat and end up disorientated on lost around the coasts of Britain. It is also possible that pilot fish can survive around the UK when the sea temperature is high but will die when the temperature drops. The UK shore caught record for this species was set in 1997 at the Towy Estuary, Carmarthenshire, Wales when Mr. J. Richards caught a pilot fish of just over 10oz. A pilot fish living and feeding around the coast of the British Isles is very uncommon, and catching one on rod and line is incredibly rare indeed.

Pufferfish

Oceanic Pufferfish

  • Record: 6lb 9oz
  • Location of capture: Chesil Beach in Dorset

There are over one hundred species of pufferfish found around the world, all of which are found in tropical and subtropical waters. They are also known as blowfish and balloonfish due to their ability to inflate their stomach with either water or air to increase their size and deter predators from attacking. Pufferfish are also covered in small spines, and pufferfish are capable of choking much larger fish to death if they inflate themselves as they are being eaten. Although any species of pufferfish found in UK waters is incredibly rare, the oceanic pufferfish (Lagocephalus lagocephalus) is an occasional vagrant visitor to the warmer south and west coasts of England in the late summer and early autumn. This species can grow up to two feet in length and, as described below, the internal organs of this species contain a powerful poison. The British shore caught record comes from the famous mark of Chesil Beach in Dorset where Mr. S. Atkinson caught a specimen weiging 6lb 9oz in 1985. In 2014 another pufferfish was found in British waters, although this one was washed up (again on Chesil Beach in Dorset), rather then being caught by an angler.

Pufferfish are poisonous as the powerful neurotoxin tetrodotocin (which has no known antidote) is found in the internal organs and skin. The sale of pufferfish for human consumption is banned in the EU and United States. However, in Japan puffefish (where it is known as fugu) is considered to be a delicacy with chefs – who must have had at least two year’s training and have passed written and practical exams – able to fillet the fish to avoid the poisonous organs and serve the edible flesh.

Sunfish

Ocean Sunfish

  • Record: 49lb 4oz
  • Location of capture: Fisherman’s Cove, Cornwall

Sunfish (Mola Mola) are a strange and unusual looking fish, being disc-shaped and massive in size, growing to lengths of 14ft and weighing hundreds of pounds. Indeed, along with the European sturgeon and the King of Herrings they are in with a claim of being the largest bony fish in the world. They were previously very rare in UK waters, being a tropical and sub-tropical species, but possibly as a result of global warming they appear to be becoming more common. However, spotting a sunfish (and certainly catching one) in the seas around the UK would still be a notable event, likely to generate local media attention and be of interest to marine biologists and scientists – especially if this happened away from the warmer waters of the south and south-west of England.

Unsurprisingly, the British record for a shore caught sunfish comes from the south-west of England with Mr. M. Merry catching a sunfish weighing 49lbs 4oz from Fisherman’s Cove, Cornwall in 1976 – a large fish to catch from the shore but small by sunfish standards. It is interesting to note that with the apparent rising sea temperatures around the UK this record has stood for over 35 years. Perhaps with increasing range of the sunfish this record will be broken in the near future.

Electric Ray and Marbled Electric Ray

Marbled Electric Ray

  • Electric Ray: 52lb 10oz, Cornwall
  • Marbled Electric Ray: 13lb 15oz, Jersey

Electric rays (Torpedo nobiliana) are a species of ray which is actually native to the British Isles, being found in deeper waters around the western coasts of Scotland and Ireland. However, they are much more common in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and off the coasts of Africa and South and Central America. They can grow to a maximum of around 200lbs and almost six feet in length. They are unusual looking with a dark, sometimes black body, oval shape and smooth, fatty body. As their name implies they are capable of delivering a shock of up to 220 volts – enough to knock a fully grown person off their feet. The marbled electric ray (Torpedo marmorata) is found in similar areas and grows to smaller sizes with a 15lb specimen being considered large.

While both of these species being rare around the shores of the British Isles they both have shore caught records. The largest electric ray ever caught was a 52lb 10z specimen caught by Mr. M. Wills off the Cornish coast in 1980, while a 13lb 15oz marbled electric ray was caught by Mr. M. Porter fishing off the Jersey coast ten years later in 1990.

Atlantic Bonito

Atlantic Bonito

  • Record: 3lb 8dr
  • Location of capture: Hartlepool Heugh, County Durham

The Atlantic bonito (Sarda Sarda) is a relatively small species of fish which is broadly similar in appearance to the mackerel. It has two distinct dorsal fins, the first of which is large and is separated from the small, triangular second dorsal fin by a small gap. Coluoration is grey to silver with attractive black/white stripes running down the flanks. The Atlantic bonito is found on both coasts of the Atlantic in warm waters and there are also populations in the Mediterranean sea. Atlantic bonito are active pelagic fish which hunt and feed on all manner of fish and squid which are smaller than themselves. They are an important food fish in many Mediterranean countries.

Like most of the fish species featured on this page the Atlantic bonito is a vagrant visitor to UK waters, with no ready explanation as to why this warm water species can be found in the temperate waters around the UK. The previous British record was a 2lb 10oz specimen caught from St. Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales by P. Blanning in 1996. However, this was beaten by a 3lb 8dr Atlantic bonito caught at Hartlepool Heugh in North East England by J. MacGregor in 2015.

Guinean Amberjack

Guinean Amberjack

  • Record: 2lb 2oz
  • Location of capture: The Lizard, Cornwall

The Guinean Amberjack (Seriola carpenteri) is a warm water fish with a relatively limited distribution, being found mostly along the west coast of Africa, although there are also thought to be populations in the Mediterranean. This species is fast moving with short, powerful fins (similar to a tuna) and can grow up to three feet in length, but is usually less than half of this size. An active hunter, the Guinean amberjack swims in mid-water, preying on smaller fish and squid. As might be expected the Guinean amberjack is only found in UK waters on a very rare basis, when vagrants may for unknown reasons find their way into British waters. The British shore caught record for this species was caught at The Lizard, Cornwall by Mr. B. Adams who caught a 2lb 2oz specimen in 2004.

Striped Bass

Striped Bass

  • Record: Not recorded – see below
  • Location of capture: Dover Breakwater, Kent

While it does not have an official shore caught record angler Martin White did earn himself a place on the Notable Fish List of the British Rod Caught Fish Committee when he caught a striped bass (Morone saxatilis) when fishing off Dover Breakwater in Kent in August 2013. While the striped bass is a massively popular sport fish in the USA it is unheard of for one to cross the Atlantic. Indeed, the fish caught by Mr. White is the first recorded incidence of this species being caught anywhere in UK waters.

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