Portsmouth is one of the most popular seaside towns in the country, fact! But did you know that our shores are heaving with coastal creatures that you may or may not have seen or even heard of? That’s right. Thanks to our convenient location on the shores of Port Solent and a large harbour, we have a healthy local population of fish here. So, it’s time to start exploring… Here are seven species that are indigenous to the coasts in and around Portsmouth!
The two species of mullet found locally are thin-lipped grey and thick-lipped grey, which look remarkably similar but at the same time are fairly easy to differentiate – the clue is in their names!
A standard thin-lipped grey can grow to about 7lbs and reach a length of around 70cm. This species is classed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as one of Least Concern in Europe and globally. Likewise, their thick-lipped relatives are the most common mullet that can be found around the British Isles and Ireland. They’re often seen gliding around the harbours, but if you really want to spot some of these torpedo-shaped fish, you’ll have to brave the British winter elements – because they migrate northwards during the summer!
The smoothhounds are the resident sharks of Portsmouth’s shores. The two species of smoothhound that inhabit our coasts – particularly West Beach, Selsey, and Hill-Head – are common smoothhound and starry smoothhound. The former is large and fairly slender with occasional dark spots, whereas the latter is dotted with numerous white spots above the lateral line, making the two species easily distinguishable.
Once a species that was predominantly found to the south and west of the British Isles, smoothhounds have recently been caught off the coasts of Cumbria, Yorkshire, and even North East England. They’re not commonly eaten in the UK, so these sharks are not targeted commercially by British vessels – this has helped them live more expansively across waters.
Fun fact: Smoothhounds were called ‘Sweet William’ in medieval times – ironically, they stink of ammonia when they die… no wonder they’re not eaten!
The garfish is a peculiar-looking fish that you can find along the shores of Portsmouth. Also known as the sea needle for its shape, the garfish is found in brackish and marine waters of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Baltic Sea – hence why it’s often thought of as a warm-water species, although it’s not uncommon for the garfish to be caught northwards as far as the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the waters of Iceland.
This species is fast-swimming and it only grows to a few pounds in weight. Their hard-fighting qualities make them popular targets for anglers – they look spectacular when they leap out of the water attempting to throw the hooks.
Slow-growing and with a potential lifespan of up to over 30 years, these flatfish are becoming increasingly hard to come by as far as Portsmouth is concerned. Having said that, several decent fish have been taken each spring from the West Winner Bank, Eastney, and the Hayling beaches.
Plaice migrate into shallower inshore waters along Portsmouth’s extensive seafront when the sea temperature starts to rise, and they spend the warmer months (between March and September) there. When autumn comes, plaice make their way back to offshore waters and get ready for the colder winter months, when they’ll be spawning in deeper water far out at sea.
Flounder is another type of flatfish, and is typically found in local harbours feeding on worms and small molluscs during winter. If you think garfish and plaice are weird-looking, check this out: an adult flounder has both its eyes on one side of its body! However, since this species adopts the colouration of its habitat, you’ll be able to find better-looking specimens off the beaches in spring and autumn. The tricky part is that they live on the ocean floor, so it would be pretty difficult to spot from above the surface.
There are five species of wrasse in the British Isles, but the ones you’re most likely to find in Portsmouth are Ballan and Cuckoo. The Ballan wrasse is a heavy-bodied species with a broad head, small mouth, and thick lips. While the colouration of this wrasse can vary from fish to fish, there are no external differences between the sexes – meaning it’s almost impossible to tell a male Ballan from a female Ballan. The Cuckoo wrasse is well-built with a deep-set, compressed body and a large head. This species is native to the eastern Atlantic Ocean, stretching from Norway down to Senegal.
While larger bass are very difficult to come by these days, the smaller shoal bass (or affectionately called ‘shoalies’) are much more common in this area. They’re primarily ocean-going fish that are native to the waters of Europe’s western and southern coasts. Indeed, the bass can be found in most corners along the Portsmouth shores, but it can also be found in shallow coastal waters and river-mouths throughout summer.
Come and See These Fish
Blue Reef Aquarium Portsmouth is home to some of the indigenous sea life on the coasts in and around Portsmouth. As well as spotting some of these, you’ll also get to see some colourful wrasse, crustaceans, sea bass, triggerfish, and a variety of rays – see here for more information on our creatures, and don’t forget to make the most of our online ticket discounts this summer!