- Scientific name: Galeorhinus galeus
- Also know as: Tope Shark, School Shark, Soupfin Shark, Oil Shark, Penny’s Dog, Miller’s Dog
- Size: Up to 6ft and 100lbs, although in some locations the maximum size can be 20-30lbs.
- UK minimum size: 9lbs/20kgs (as a shark species tope has a minimum weight rather than length)
- UK shore caught record: 66lbs
- IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
- Distribution: Wide distribution around the UK, but more common around the south east, southern and western coasts of the British Isles.
- Feeds on: Tope feed on a variety of different fish such as dab, flounder and pouting, as well as mackerel and herring. They will also take squid and on occasion crustaceans.
- Description: Slim, streamlined body and long pointed snout. Greyish upper body, sometimes with a brownish tinge and white belly with distinctive, notched tail. Two dorsal fins and large, powerful pectoral fins. Mouth full of small but extremely sharp teeth. Males identified by the presence of the clasper near to the anal fin.
Tope is a species of shark from the Triakidae family. It is a slim and yet powerful fish which is highly prized by anglers for its fighting power and the prestige of catching a shark species. While it is a species primarily associated with boat fishing it is possible to catch smaller tope from the shore, with a number of much larger fish caught by shore anglers every year.
Distribution and Habitat
Tope are found in sub-tropical and temperate waters around the world. They are found around North and off the Argentinian and Brazilian coasts of South America, off the coast of South Africa and throughout Australian and New Zealand waters. In Europe the are found throughout the Mediterranean, Atlantic and parts of the North Sea. In terms of UK distribution they are more common in the southern North Sea, south coast, south west, Wales and along the west coast of Scotland. It is rare to find tope outside of these areas, although they have been reported on rare occasions. Tope do not favour very rough ground but will be found over light mixed ground and sandy and shingle areas, usually with a decent tidal flow. Tope will come into large inshore estuaries and bays, but some depth of water is still required as they will not come into very shallow water. In south east England the Thames Estuary holds tope, as does Morecambe Bay in north west England and Luce Bay in south west Scotland. There are also tope in the fast running Bristol channel, off the coast of Cornwall and all around the coast of the Republic of Ireland. Tope are not a deep-sea fish and are found in a maximum depth of two or three hundred metres deep. Smaller tope, up to 20-30lbs may stay in small packs and hunt together. Larger fish tend to be solitary. Tope are nomadic and can travel huge distances in their lifetime. It is not unusual for tope tagged in Europe to be caught again in South American or African waters.
Spawning and Reproduction
Breeding takes place in late winter and spring. Tope are ovoviviparous, which means fertilised eggs are retained and hatch in the bodies of females making it look as if they give birth to live young. Eggs develop in the body of females for around a year and are released into fairly shallow bays and estuaries. Usually six or seven pups are released but it can be many more than this in some cases. Pups are around one foot long at birth.
Commercial Value of Tope
There is little demand for tope from UK consumers and commercial vessels from Britain do not target this species, although it is caught as bycatch and discarded at sea and in sub-tropical seas they are caught on long-lines meant for tuna. While tope is not eaten in the UK in Spain there is demand for this species for human consumption where tope meat is marinated and fried to create the dish of cazón. Tope are exported to Asia where they are utilised for shark fin soup – hence the alternative nickname of the soupfin shark. The liver is also used for oil and the skin made into leather. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) classes the tope as Vulnerable meaning that it is at risk of becoming an endangered species. Greenpeace have also added tope to their redlist of fish species which are have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries. Tope adapt well to being kept in captivity and can be seen in many large-scale aquariums and sea life centres actoss the world. Tope have never been recorded carrying out an unprovoked on humans.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Tope
Tope are very much seen as a boat fishing species and it is not common to catch a tope from the shore. Boat anglers fish for tope using heavy 50lb-class gear, as tope is a poweful fish and can run in the tide making it even more difficult to reel in. The standard shark fishing methods of groundbaiting with oily fish is a good idea and mackerel or herring based rubby-dubby can be used. Rigs consist of a wire hooklength to protect against the tope’s sharp teeth and a heavy monofilament rubbing leader as the rough skin of the tope could tear through weaker line. Hook size does not have to be too large, as this will make smaller sub-20lbs tope difficult to hook. Strong patterns in size 5/0 or 6/0 are the best choice as they can hook smaller fish and handle anything larger that comes along. As tope are a powerful shark species they will make runs and will need to be given line and played like a gamefish.
However, small boat anglers catch tope just a few hundred metres from the shore, and in places such as this it will be perfectly possible to catch this species from the shore. Placing a bait into a fast-running gully or sandbank where small fish are likely to congregate offer the best chance of catching a shore tope. Tope are only a realistic possibility if the water being cast into is at least five metres deep, with chances of locating feeding tope increasing with the water depth. Tackle needs to be strong, as even a smallish tope will put up a great fight, especially if it can use the strength of the tide to its advantage. Large multipliers and stiff, sturdy beachasters are the only choice. Remember a tope will run and need to be given line so ensure that clutches and drags are set correctly prior to beginning to fish for this species, or the ratchet (line out alarm) is used. In terms of rigs a single hook clipped down behind an impact shield will be needed, as large baits will need to be cast a decent distance. Hook size should be 4/0 in a strong pattern as, just like when boat fishing for this species, hooks need to be suitable to catch the smaller tope (or other species which take the bait) but handle the larger specimens. A wire hooklength is also necessary to prevent the tope biting through the line, and a rig body made of at least 80lb line is a good idea to eliminate the possibility of the rough skin of the tope cutting through the line.
Tope primarily feed on fish and these make the best baits. However, tope generally scour the seabed for food, meaning the fish they come across most often are species such as dab, flounder, pouting, poor cod and whiting. Although they do eat mid-water fish such as herring on mackerel on occasion, they do not consume them anywhere near as much as many UK anglers think they do. For this reason anglers using fish not normally associated with bait, such as pouting, whiting and dab can outfish the more obvious mackerel and herring on many occasions. A small whiting or pouting flapper, or the centre section of a dab can all produce catches when shore fishing for tope.