June 17th, 2011 by Richard Lord
Paul Benstead from the St Peter Port Harbour Master’s office called at 1830 on Friday 17 June 2011 to tell me he had fished out a strange-looking fish from the water by the Condor ferry ramp in St Peter Port harbour. He had placed it on a metal grill under the ramp.
The fish was a decomposing European moray eel, Muraena helena, which was over one metre long. The moray eel had been dead for several days.
This species is principally a southern European fish, which is found in the Mediterranean, around the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, and south along the African coast to Senegal. It is rare in the English Channel.
The last European moray eel I saw in Guernsey was caught by David Markwick on 3 October 1996 near Amfroque north-east of Herm.
David Markwick’s moray eel resided at the Guernsey Aquarium in a tank with bass, grey triggerfish, and grey mullet. It had grown significantly in size since its arrival at the aquarium.
There was a Brixham-based and Dumfries registered scallop trawler in the harbour. I spoke to the Captain to make sure he had not discarded the moray eel. He knew nothing about it. The wind was not in the right direction to have blown the moray eel into the harbour but the tide could have brought it in. The tide was rising and could refloat the eel.
On 1 July 2011 I learned that on the morning of 14 June 2011, Guernsey aquarium staff found David Markwick’s moray eel dead with a grey mullet lodged in its mouth. The moray eel was removed from the tank and disposed of in Soldiers’ Bay to the south of the Guernsey Aquarium. Tidal currents carry material in a counter-clockwise direction around Guernsey. It is most likely that the dead moray eel was floated off Soldiers’ Bay beach by the rising tide and carried north into St Peter Port harbour on 17 June where it was discovered by Paul Benstead.
Declan Quigley wrote in the Irish Naturalists’ Journal about a European moray eel landed on 6 February 1997 thirty-two kilometres off Mine Head, County Waterford. This individual measured 112.5 cm.
He wrote that this “specimen represents the first record of Muraena helena from Irish waters and the fourteenth from NW Europe.”
Another European moray eel was caught off the Cornish coast in 2009. This capture was reported in the Daily Mail on 13 June.
And three more moray eels were captured in 2010 near Dingle in south-west Ireland.
Declan Quigley knows of nineteen European moray eels records from north-western Europe waters.
Eight moray eels have been reported from the French coast north of the Bay of Biscay, one from Guernsey, five from the UK, four from Ireland and one from Belgium. They have been captured at all times of year.
All these northern moray eels had a length between 99 to 120 cm.
Declan reports that the the IGFA World Rod & Line Record, which was captured off the Algarve, Portugal, weighed 6.2 kgs and measured about 122cm long.
He writes that the eggs and leptocephalus larvae of the moray eel are both planktonic so they could have drifted north but no plankton tows in north-west European waters have revealed moray eel eggs or larvae.
We don’t know whether adult moray eels migrated to the northern locations where they were captured or whether eggs and larvae were transported north by ocean currents.
Although it is most likely that the moray eel discovered in St Peter Port harbour on 17 June is the individual from the Guernsey Aquarium, if anyone knows of the capture and discard of another moray eel at a similar time and location please contact the author by leaving a comment. Thank you.