Squatina squatina 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Squatiniformes Squatinidae

Scientific Name: Squatina squatina
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Angelshark, Angel Shark
French L'anelot, Ange, Ange De Mer, Angel, Antjou, Bourgeois, Bourget, L'ange, Martrame, Mordacle, Squatine Occelee
Spanish Angelote, Mermejuela, Pardon, Pez Angel
Squalus squatina Linnaeus, 1758
Taxonomic Source(s): Eschmeyer, W.N. (ed.). 2015. Catalog of Fishes. Updated 6 April 2015. Available at: http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/fishcatmain.asp. (Accessed: 6 April 2015).
Taxonomic Notes: Squatina squatina is difficult to identify to species level, therefore many of the records from fishermen reports in the Mediterranean are often assigned only to genus level, though this is the only angel shark known from northern European seas.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2bcd+3d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-12-15
Assessor(s): Ferretti, F., Morey, G, Serena, F., Mancusi, C., Fowler, S.L., Dipper, F. & Ellis, J.
Reviewer(s): Dulvy, N.
Contributor(s): Fordham, S. & Buscher, E.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Walls, R., Frazer, K., Pardo, S.A. & Dulvy, N.

Angel shark (Squatina squatina) was formerly common throughout large areas of coastal and outer continental shelf seas in the Northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Seas. Most of this region is now subject to intense demersal fisheries, and the species is highly catchable from birth onwards and is taken as bycatch in demersal trawls, set nets and bottom longlines operating through most of its range and habitat. As a result of its slow life history characteristics and bycatch in fisheries with steadily increasing effort and capacity, its abundance has markedly declined during the past 50 years to the point where it has been declared locally extinct in the North Sea and is locally extinct from large areas of the northern Mediterranean Sea. It is now undetectable throughout most of the remainder of its range, with the exception of the Canary Islands where effective conservation measures are required urgently. Angelshark is therefore assessed as Critically Endangered  under criteria A2bcd+3d on the basis of estimated and suspected past declines of at least 80% over three generations and the likelihood of continuing future declines resulting from fishing pressure.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Angel shark (Squatina squatina) originally ranged from Scandinavia to northwest Africa (Mauritania and the Canary Islands), including the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The current distribution is reduced from this historic range as a result of severe population depletion, local extinction, and range contraction. The species is now locally extinct or extremely rare over much of its former range, and it is inferred that almost all of the remaining population is found around the Canary Islands. Its depth range is five to 150 m.
Countries occurrence:
Spain (Canary Is.)
Regionally extinct:
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – eastern central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):150
Upper depth limit (metres):5
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


This species was reportedly common, or at least frequently or regularly recorded in many areas during the 19th century and early 20th century. For example, it was particularly common on the south and east English coasts (Yarrell 1836, Day 1880), and also in the North Sea, on the Dogger Bank, in the Bristol Channel and Cornwall, and “by no means uncommon” in the Firth of Clyde (Day 1880). Historically it was also caught in Tralee Bay and Clew Bay, Ireland. It was still caught regularly and considered common in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century (Garstang 1903). During much of the 20th century, recreational fisheries landed unknown quantities of Angelshark from the west coast of Ireland. 

Landings in the Northeast Atlantic compiled by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s (ICES) Working Group on Elasmobranch Fishes (WGEF) in 2004, from 1978 to 2002 for all ICES Areas, are variable because of recent misreporting of this non-quota species as other species, primarily Monkfish (Lophius spp.). Deleting these records revealed that landings have declined from 15-20 tonnes in the 1980s to one to two tonnes in the 1990s, with the last reported landing in 1998. Only 3.2 tonnes of the species have been reported in landings on the French coast since 1996 (ICES 2012).

Although more common off the Atlantic Iberian coasts, this shark was also reported as frequent in the Mediterranean Sea during the first half of the 20th century by Lozano Rey (1928). Off the North Africa coastline it may currently be more common than in other parts of the Mediterranean Sea; for example, as reported off the coast of Tunisia, although it is considered rare in the Gulf of Gabès (Bradaï 2000). Tunisia reported small catches of this species during the past decade (10-53 tonnes), with the 1997 catch at 37 tonnes. Other Mediterranean countries that report 'angelsharks' to the Fisheries and Aquaculture Organisation of the United Nations with this species as part of the catch include Albania, Turkey, Malta and France.

Steep population declines have now been reported from several parts of this species’ range, including in the North Sea (ICES 2005), UK coastal waters (Rogers and Ellis 2000), the French coast (Quero and Cendrero 1996, Capapé et al. 2000), and large areas of the Mediterranean Sea (e.g., Vacchi et al. 2002). During the early 1900s, an average of one specimen was taken during every ten hours of trawl survey in British coastal waters, but in recent years the species has virtually vanished (Rogers and Ellis 2000). The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) surveys recorded angelsharks (Squatina spp.) in low numbers in Cardigan Bay during the 1980s (Ellis et al. 1996) but reported just two individuals in the last 20 years. Vacchi et al. (2002) reported the steep decline in the elasmobranch catch of a tuna trap operating in Baratti (northern Tyrrhenian Sea) between 1898 and 1922. For angel sharks, catches decreased from an average of 134 specimens from the period 1898 to 1905, to 95 between 1906 and 1913, and down to 15 between 1914 and 1922. The population has become increasingly fragmented and records are now extremely infrequent (for more information, see “Threats”). The species has now disappeared from much of its former range in the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.

Survey data for this species in the northern Mediterranean Sea exist for the period from 1985 to 1999, when two major trawl surveys were carried out: the International Bottom Trawl Survey in the Mediterranean (MEDITS) and the Italian scientific trawl surveys “Gruppo Nazionale Demersali” (GRUND). During the MEDITS program (1995-1999), a broad-scale survey of the northern Mediterranean coastline from west Morocco to the Aegean Sea at depths of 10 to 800 m, this shark appeared in only two of a total of 6,336 tows, at a depth range of 50 to 100 m (Baino et al. 2001). In the GRUND survey, captures of the species were reported in only 0.41% of 9,281 hauls (Relini et al. 2000). The species was reported from trawl surveys carried out in the Adriatic Sea in 1948, but MEDITS trawls in 1998 indicated that it might now be absent from this area (Jukic-Peladic et al. 2001). Indeed, the last documented catch from the Adriatic Sea was in 1958 (Ferretti et al. 2013), and evidence points to angelsharks being absent nowadays from most of the northern Mediterranean coastline.

Historically, angelsharks were very abundant in the Tuscan Archipelago (D’Ancona and Razzauti 1937, Biagi 1999). From analyses of multiple trawl surveys in the area, Ferretti et al. (2005) detected the disappearance of all angelshark species from the area (Angelshark and Sawback Angelshark [S. aculeata]). Out of 22 elasmobranch species that the author could model, trends in standardised trawl survey catch rates for Angelshark and Sawback Angelshark displayed the steepest decline (> 99% since historical levels). Trawl surveys have not detected this species in this region since the end of the 1970s (Ferretti et al. 2005).

Decreased catches in the Sicilian channel were detected between 1983 and 1992 from landing records of the fish market of Valletta (Fergusson and Marks 1996). Using information from interview surveys, Maynou et al. (2011) suggested that angelsharks became locally extinct in the Catalan Sea before 1959.

Declines have also been reported from studies off the Balearic Islands where this species, previously relatively frequent, may now be absent. It was historically documented in checklists from the region (Delaroche 1809, Ramis 1814, Barceló and Combis 1868, Fage 1907, De Buen 1935), where captures of angelsharks were relatively frequent until the 1970s, then became increasingly sporadic during the 1980s in coastal artisanal fisheries (trammel nets and gillnets), lobster tangle nets, trawl and bottom longline fisheries. Recently, Massutí and Moranta (2003) reported no captures of angelsharks from four bottom-trawl fishing surveys (131 hauls, at a depth range of 46 to 1,800 m) carried out between 1996 and 2001 around the Balearic Islands. In addition, the likely low interaction with stocks from other areas further affects the already low recovery capacity of isolated populations such as those in this area.

According to Ferretti et al. (2005) the two species of angel sharks (Squatina squatina and Squatina aculeata) displayed the steepest negative rate of change by declining until extirpation; they declined by more than 80% in three generations (33 years).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

A temperate-water bottom-dwelling angelshark of the European and North African continental shelves, occurring on or near the bottom from close inshore (five metres) in the intertidal or subtidal zone to at least 150 m depth. This shark prefers mud or sandy bottom and it may penetrate estuaries and brackish water. In the northern parts of its historical range it was seasonally migratory, making northwards incursions during the summer (Ebert and Compagno 2013).

Most life history data are from Capapé et al. (1990) for the Mediterranean Sea. Females reach maturity at 128-169 cm total length (TL), and males at 80-132 cm TL (Lipej et al. 2004). Maximum size is 183 cm TL and possibly up to 244 cm TL (Compagno 1984, Ebert and Compagno 2013), with estimates of < 240 cm TL in the Mediterranean Sea (Tortonese 1956). Age at maturity and longevity are unknown. This shark is live bearing with yolk-sac nutrition, with both ovaries functional. It has moderate-sized litters of seven to 25 young, which vary according to the size of the female (Tortonese 1956, Bini 1967, Capapé et al. 1990, Ebert and Compagno 2013). Records of size at birth are 24-30 cm TL (Ebert and Compagno 2013) and 24 cm TL (Tortonese 1956, Bini 1967). Gestation period is eight to 10 months (Capapé et al. 1990, Ebert and Compagno 2013), born in December to February in the Mediterranean Sea but apparently later in northern parts of its range (July in England). Reproductive age and periodicity, rate of population increase and mortality are unknown. Its generation length is inferred to be around 11 years, based on biological information from better known angel sharks.

Generation Length (years):11

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: There is no information on the use and trade for this species.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Angelsharks are highly susceptible to bycatch in trawls because they lie on the bottom. Benthic trawl effort has increased in both intensity and efficiency on the shelf and slope area of the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea over the last 50 years. The early population decline probably marks the beginning of trawling activity in the area. This species is also caught incidentally in trammel nets and bottom longlines throughout its range, and was formerly the object of targeted fisheries with nets called ‘squanere’ (angelshark nets) in parts of the Mediterranean Sea (Marchesetti 1882, Fortibuoni et al. 2010). Human disturbance by habitat degradation and tourism are also possible threats to its preferred sandy nearshore habitat. A low rate of exchange between angel shark populations may make them especially prone to local depletion and means that recolonisation will be extremely low.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

In 2008, Angelshark was added to the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom, and is protected under legislation in inshore waters (ICES 2012). 

The United Kingdom and Belgium proposed Angelshark for listing on the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Northeast Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) Priority List of Threatened and Endangered Species, and this proposal was deemed appropriate by the WGEF (ICES 2002). Angelshark was listed by OSPAR in 2008. In 2010, the retention of Angelshark was prohibited throughout European Union (EU) waters; however, angling pressure upon this species is considerable in the last stronghold in the Canary Islands. The genus Squatina is protected within three Balearic Islands marine reserves, where fishing for angelsharks is forbidden.

Parties to the Barcelona Convention agreed in 2012 that Angelshark be listed in Annex II of the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean Sea -- which includes Recommendation GFCM/36/2012/1 – stating that this species cannot be retained on board, transshipped, landed, transferred, stored, sold or displayed or offered for sale, and must be released unharmed and alive, to the extent possible.

In 2013, the EU banned the removal of shark fins on board vessels through Regulation No. 605/2013, in line with advice from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Shark Specialist Group and other shark fishery experts, in order to enhance enforcement of the 2003 EU ban on shark finning (Regulation No. 1185/2003) and facilitate improved shark fishery data collection.

The genus Squatina is protected within three Balearic Islands marine reserves, where fishing for these species is forbidden.

There is an urgent need to confirm the status of this species in the southern Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands, and other areas where subpopulations may still persist. If so, appropriate conservation measures are needed to protect this species. Further research should be conducted on the population size and trend of the species.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.2. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Rock and Rocky Reefs
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.4. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Sandy
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.10. Marine Neritic - Estuaries
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 6 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 6 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends

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Citation: Ferretti, F., Morey, G, Serena, F., Mancusi, C., Fowler, S.L., Dipper, F. & Ellis, J. 2015. Squatina squatina. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T39332A48933059. . Downloaded on 21 January 2017.
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