Guitar shark caught off Changi

Possible to find large sharks in local waters
Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper 5 Nov 09 AsiaOne

Experts warn against eating them as they could be endangered or poisoned.

Singapore, November 4, 2009 - DON’T be surprised if you end up face to face with sharks while diving in the waters off Singapore.
Yesterday, The New Paper reported on a 2.75m-long guitar shark caught off Changi by bumboat operator Tan Seck Suah, 54.

The fins of the guitar shark, which was caught in the waters near Changi Naval Base, was cut up at the Tekong Seafood Restaurant in Changi Village. Mr Tan Seck Suah, who caught the shark, sold it to the restaurant for about $600. The shark is 2.75m-long and weighs 100kg.

He also claimed to have caught a 100kg giant grouper off Pulau Tekong three weeks ago.

While it doesn’t happen every day, experts say it is possible for large sharks to be found in local waters.

Commenting on the report and picture, Mr Anthony Chang, curator at Underwater World Singapore, said the animal’s appearance suggests that it belongs to the shark and ray family.
He said: “The cartilaginous fish shown in the picture has characteristics belonging to members of the genus Rhynchobatus. They are sometimes called different names, including guitarfish, wedgefish, guitar shark and shovelnose ray.

“It is not a true shark. It would be more closely related to the ray and skate group of cartilaginous fishes.”

Cartilaginous fish have internal skeletons made entirely of cartilage, with no hard bones.

The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists six species from the Rhynchobatus genus as vulnerable or endangered, which means they face a high or very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Mr Chang said such fish are typically warm water tropical marine species.

“The tropical marine belt is a pretty large area in the ocean. If this fish was not native to Singapore, it may have come into our territorial waters.”

Dr Tan Heok Hui, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said water currents, especially during the monsoon season, could have brought the fish to Singapore waters.


The IUCN website said that such fish are endangered due to overfishing because their fins are considered to be premium quality and fetch the highest prices.

Depending on the species’ habitat, some are also threatened by habitat destruction and pollution, especially in South and South-east Asia.

Commenting on the catch, Mr Chang said the anatomy of the head and the position of the mouth make it adapted for bottom feeding.

But why was it spotted near the water surface as related by Mr Tan?

Mr Chang said it could have appeared on the surface because it was chasing prey that had gone up from the sea bed, or it had detected food on the surface.

“Also, certain diseases such as neurological problems or parasites may increase the probability of a bottom-dwelling species moving up to the sea surface,” he said.

Dr Tan said the fish could also have been injured or rose to the surface as a prelude to breeding.

Mr Chang said such fish are unlikely to attack people, unlike great white sharks.

“However, any large animal can potentially cause bodily injury or even death to a human being, especially if it is harassed.

“If you encounter such a fish in the water, you may want to observe it from a distance. But the safer approach may be to calmly move away from it, that is, get ashore or return to your boat,” he said.

A spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said that guitarfish is currently not listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora so there’s no law against catching or selling it.

But because the Rhynchobatus species is under threat, Dr Tan and NUS fish biologist Jeffrey Kwik encourage people to release such fish if they catch them.

Mr Kwik said: “It’s a shame not to release such large fish back into the ocean because usually by the time such fish reach this size, it’s at a stage where it’s able to reproduce and contribute to the breeding population.”

Dr Tan suggested that recreational anglers take a picture with their mobile phones if they catch something interesting, before letting it go.

He said: “Most of these bottom dwelling shark-rays are data deficient, meaning there is insufficient information about them. Yet they are caught in the tonnes every year for their meat and fins.

“So they could be even more critically endangered than what is currently stated by IUCN.”

Another reason not to eat such large fish is the possibility of high levels of mercury.

Dr Tan said: “With large predators, they do tend to accumulate pollutants such as heavy metals.”

“It’s a sad thing to remove such adult fish because this diminishes the population in our local waters and makes this species more vulnerable.”
– NUS fish biologist Mr Jeffrey Kwik

Tekong Seafood Restaurant cooks Monster Fish
Chong Shin Yen, The New Paper 14 Oct AsiaOne

Restaurant owner estimates fish weighed over 100kg.

Singapore, October 14, 2009 - THE fish was so big, the two cooks gave up halfway, after spending an hour trying to descale it.

They were so tired their boss had to call for extra help.

So a butcher took over, but even then, it took him another hour before he managed to remove its scales and hack it into smaller pieces – with an axe.

The giant grouper, estimated to be 1.5m long and said to weigh more than 100kg, was caught off Pulau Tekong.

A fisherman and his friend had netted it, then sold it to Tekong Seafood Restaurant in Changi Village, owned by Madam Cecilia See, on Monday.

Madam See, 47, told The New Paper that her two cooks had tried to descale it using fish descalers, but gave up after an hour.

Said Madam See, in Mandarin: “They were panting as they were doing it. But they were so tired they stopped and told me they had no strength to chop it up.”

That was how Madam See ended up calling her friend, who works as a butcher. She said: “I thought a butcher should have the strength to do it.”

The restaurant owner said she did not weigh the fish as she was afraid that it may damage her weighing machine because of its weight.

“But judging from its size, it definitely weighed more than 100kg,” she said.

The grouper had been caught by Mr Tan Seck Suah, 54, a boatman, and his friend that day.

The two had gone out to sea on a joy ride.

Then, at about 1pm, Mr Tan spotted something bobbing in the water off Pulau Tekong. Thinking it was a floating human body, he was scared and told his friend to manoeuvre the boat away.

But his friend got curious and moved closer to take a second look. It was then that both of them shouted excitedly: “It’s a giant fish!”

Rare find

Said Mr Tan in Mandarin: “The fish was huge and it was swimming very slowly. It was such a rare find that we had to catch it no matter what.”

The two friends threw a fishing net over the fish to prevent it from swimming away. “It was too heavy for both of us to haul it up onto the boat. So we tied the net to our boat and dragged it back to the jetty,” said Mr Tan.

The journey to the jetty usually took him about 15 minutes. But with their big catch in tow, it was 40 minutes before they got there.

Said Mr Tan: “We could not go very fast because the fish was heavy and kept thrashing about in the water.”

Once back at the jetty, he sought the help of three other friends to haul it up.

Mr Tan, a regular angler knew people at seafood restaurants nearby. He called Madam See and she agreed to buy it from him.

They did not agree on a price, but Madam See said she does not plan to profit from it and will hand Mr Tan the proceeds from selling the fish to her customers.

She added that the market price for a grouper of that size was more than $1,000.

“I’ve known Mr Tan for a long time and we’re good friends, so I’ll just give him the money we got from selling it,” said Madam See.

She added that word about the big catch had gone around, and some of her regular customers began calling her up even before the fish had been cut up.

“Some of them bought pieces of it to take home and cook while others came to my restaurant to eat,” she said.

“We cooked some of it as a treat for my staff too. It took more than an hour just to steam the tail of the fish.

“The meat was tender and juicy and all of us had a feast that night.”

When contacted, biologist Tan Heok Hui said such giant groupers are rarely found in Singapore waters.

Dr Tan, 38, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said they are more common throughout the Indo-Pacific.

“Such giant groupers, being predatory fishes, can grow up to 2.3m in length and can weigh up to 280kg,” said Dr Tan.

He added that the life span of such groupers is unknown.

Based on a picture of the giant grouper which Mr Tan had caught, he estimated the fish to be 10 to 20 years old.