Rare fish caught off South Devon coast to join Plymouth Museum collection

An extremely rare fish landed at Plymouth Fisheries is destined to be preserved as a specimen in the city’s museum.


                                                               Doug Herdson  and Harbour Master Pete Bromley

                                                               Doug Herdson  and Harbour Master Pete Bromley

Local beam trawler Our Miranda caught the 440 gram comber on November 16th whilst fishing off Start Point on the South Devon coastline and landed it at Plymouth Fisheries in Sutton Harbour, the second largest fresh fish market in England, where staff spotted it was unusual and contacted rare fish expert Doug Herdson. 

Doug Herdson, a fish and fisheries biologist and author based in Plymouth, said: “I go down to the fish market regularly to see what is being caught so I can keep up to date on what’s happening with various species to give me an understanding of fish distribution and fish stocks, and Nick at the fish market found this comber in a catch so I went down to check it out.

“It’s a very rare specimen and the first one I have ever seen myself; these fish are a fairly obscure species and generally only found in warmer waters, so it’s really unusual for one to turn up off the Devon coast, and an exciting find for Plymouth.”

The comber is a species of fish belonging to the Serranidae family, the same family as the better-known grouper, which grow to a much larger size. The comber is generally found off south and west Africa, in the Mediterranean and out to the the Azores, as it is an East Atlantic species, and only about 50 have turned up in British and Irish waters in the last 150 years.

The largest comber ever found in UK waters was caught in Mounts Bay, Cornwall in 1977 and weighed 822 grams; more recently, a smaller specimen turned up in a crab pot off Mevagissey in June 1996.

Doug added: “The comber landed in Plymouth was 440 grams which is about normal size. I contacted the National History Museum which was happy to take the specimen but they already had a few there so it was agreed the fish would go instead to Plymouth Museum, which didn’t already have any combers, and they were delighted as it is an unusual fish to add to the museum’s collection.”

Pete Bromley, Manager of Plymouth Fisheries, said: “The comber is an uncommon fish and a very rare find in British waters; we were very happy for Doug to organise for this specimen to find a home in Plymouth Museum, so people living locally will be able to see it for themselves.

“Combers never get especially big, and this one was of average size. They would make perfectly good eating but they are too small to make much of a meal usually.”