Species Profile: Tope

Posted on Nov 1 2006 - 8:56am by WSF
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A slim bodied shark with five gill slits. The main dorsal is roughly triangular and has a rounded point. A second, smaller dorsal sits just in front of the wrist of the tail. The teeth are a small triangular pattern with notched and serrated edges and extremely sharp. There is a small but deep notch in the tip of the tail fin.

Luce Bay Tope Fishing

COLOURATION
An overall grey, though persistent feeders over sand do show more of a brown tinge. Reef living tope can infrequently turn up with an almost black back. The belly is a dirty grey to white.

SIZE RANGE
This depends on the locality. In the Northwest of England the tope are small pack fish up to 20lbs with only a few larger ones. In West Wales and Luce bay in Southwest Scotland there are fish from all size denominations up to 70lbs plus. English channel tope are average pack fish running between 15 and 20lbs with a few fish double this weight. The Essex coast also sees a variety of size from 12lb pack tope to fish over 80lbs. Commercially caught tope have exceeded 100lbs and a length of 6-feet.

BREEDING SEASON
Tope migrate to the inshore shallows during April and May dropping their young, which are about 14 inches long and born live and fully formed, in litters from between 15 and 40 in number throughout May and June. The largest female tope carry the largest number of pups. Regards actual breeding little is known, but probably occurs during late autumn in deep water.

DISTRIBUTION
Less common in the Southeast of England than anglers realise and does not feature in great numbers along the English Channel Coast, though is not classed as a rare catch here. Some fish are present along the Devon and Cornish Coast but again, not in great numbers.

Pack tope to 30lbs feature throughout the Bristol Channel. The top area has to be the Pembrokeshire Coast and in particular Cardigan Bay where both pack fish and 80lbers swim.

Other noted areas are Morecambe bay for pack fish and Luce bay in Southwest Scotland for bigger females. Parts of Western, Southern and Eastern Ireland also have large concentrations. General distribution is throughout the Mediterranean along the coast of Europe as far as Northern Norway.

HABITAT
A wide ranging predator. Likes to hunt sandy gullies and gutters swimming with the tide. Sweeps across sandbanks trying to disturb flatfish. Has a particular preference for shallow reefs holding small pollack and bass. Will often penetrate a short way into the deeper channels of estuaries after flatfish and school bass. Surprises anglers by sometimes turning up in 300-feet of water over wrecks, though tope are happy to feed in only 12-feet of water, even by day. Likes to work areas of fast tides around rocky headlands and across the mouths of sandy coves.

DIET
Stomach contents are dominated by whiting, dabs, codling and pout. Rarely are mackerel and other fast swimming species found. Has been known to contain edible crabs and small lobsters.