July 3rd, 1964
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Some 4,000 basking sharks were caught in Keem Bay at Achill Island between 1947 and 1964, according to this article by a special correspondent which explained how.
ON THEIR arrival [at Keem Bay the fishermen] go ashore and collect the nets and ropes which are stored in a shed. They are placed in the currach in the order that they will be launched.
The nets are made of a very fine strong rope (3/5” [inches]), specially made for the purpose.
They are about 60 yards long and have meshes about 28” long when stretched. [...]
There is a look-out man sitting on the edge of the cliff, about 200 feet above the water level.
As the sea water in Keem Bay is very clear he can easily see the shark as it approaches the shore, and then he gives the warning to the men in the boat.
The net is set in a special way: 40 yards of it are set in a straight line, and the remaining 15 yards are brought back at an angle of 30 degrees.
At the end of it there is a light anchor-rope and stone holding this part of the net in position, like the other anchor-rope.
The men in the boat hold the two strong ropes and await the shark striking the net. When it gets into the angle of it it finds that it cannot turn, and in its efforts to do so it becomes entangled in the net.
Then the fight begins. It splashes about struggling for its freedom, and while all this excitement is taking place the boatmen must keep clear.
But at the same time they are watching for the opportunity of spearing the shark.
This is done by a very sharp pointed steel blade made out of a leaf of a motorcar spring, and the spear has a wooden handle attached to it, with a cork float on the top to prevent it from sinking if, by chance, one of the men should lose his grip on it.
The man in charge of the spearing of the shark, when he gets the opportunity, drives the spear into the back of the head and into the backbone, thereby dislocating it and paralysing the fish.
There is then very little movement in the fish. Then the man again watches for the opportunity of spearing the fish for the second time, but this is done under the head and through the gills.
Then the blood gushes out and the fish becomes very weak. [...] At Porteen Harbour there is a crane, which can lift sharks up to 40 feet long.
The shark is left lying on the jetty: three men are ready for the cutting of its flesh and the removal of its liver.
If the liver is very large, it is cut up in smaller pieces and they are conveyed to an adjoining building, where the oil is extracted by steam heaters. The oil is put into steam barrels and exported to Britain, Germany, Holland, Finland, Norway and America.
The flesh of the shark is sent by lorry to Ballinasloe, where it is made into Fish Meal and Fish Manure.