Common name: Tope
Latin name: Galeorhinus galeus
Record weight: Despite being found primarily in shallow water, the biggest tope tend to be found by boat anglers. This is reflected in the record weights with a huge female of 82lb 8oz holding the boat record, compared to a fish of 58lb 2oz caught from the shore. Much larger fish have been caught by trawlers, but these are females heavily with pup - sport anglers have returned these fish alive nullifying any potential record claim.
Distribution: Tope are found right around the coast of the British Isles, although certain areas are known for the best fishing. The Wash is a particularly productive area for tope in the Summer months with large numbers of fish in the ten to thirty pound range. These smaller fish are found in large packs that hunt the shallow waters of the Wash. Much larger fish are found in the deeper water of the Thames estuary, although in recent years these large females have become increasingly rare. The North Wales and Cumbrian coast also provides good tope fishing, although tends to be less exploited than the East coast. Large fish are present, although found in much smaller groups here. In winter, tope move into much deeper water, often over 100m, and are not a feature of angler catches.
Features: The tope is closely related to the blue shark and shares many of the features of this fish. Tope are a slim athletic fish that are able to hunt down their prey over long distance. Like their larger cousins, tope share the sharp cutting teeth, ideally suited to biting off chunks of flesh from their prey.
Diet: Tope are mainly fish eaters, hunting small whiting, cod, mackerel and flatfish which they chase down and disable by biting chunks out of the fish. They then eat their prey at leisure. Smaller fish also feed upon molluscs and crustaceans, particularly crabs, which are common over the sandy sea beds that tope prefer.
Spawning: Tope are typical of sharks in giving birth to live young. Each female produces around twenty young each summer after a gestation period of around ten months. Large females give birth to larger young, which may measure up to 40cm in length. The young fish form large schools, probably to help protect them from predation by larger tope and seals. The young fish can often be found in water only a metre or two deep, gradually moving off-shore in the Autumn as the water temperature begins to fall and water clarity is lost, thanks to storms.
Growth: Tope are thought to be a relatively long lived species with the larger females living for twenty or more years. As tope are not a commercial species there are still large gaps in our knowledge of their growth and movements, something that is being studied by the Shark Trust. Sport fisherman now return almost all tope as these fine sporting fish are poor eating and, with the problems of by-catch and pollution, anything that we can do to preserve our stocks is to be encouraged.