What is Arctic Char?


What is Arctic Char?

Irish names: Muírnín, “hobbin”, Ruadh-bhreac, Breac buidhe 

Char are closely related to our trout and salmon and have a similar appearance. Unlike trout and salmon (which have darker spots) they have a pale spotted pattern over typically green or blue flanks. During spawning time the males develop a deep red underbelly typical of the genus Salvelinus.

Where do Char occur?

Arctic Char in Ireland
All Irish populations are confined to freshwater lakes, although in more northerly countries they migrate to sea in a similar manner to salmon.

The Arctic Char, Salvelinus alpinus, in Ireland

In Ireland char are not very well understood as little research has been carried out. Initially the char was thought to be quite rare as it was an infrequent component of anglers catches. However, in Ireland the distribution of char was always quite widespread, particularly in western counties, though it may become rare if the present rate of extinction continues. Most of the populations of char in Ireland feature diminutive fish, however they are not a true dwarf race as their size is not dictated solely by genetics. Irish char are small compared to anadromous char, but their size range is typical of other European landlocked populations. It is thought that char in Lough Owel may have reached weights of up to 1.4kg, but this may never be known as this population is now extinct.

Most populations occur in deep mountain lakes in the west from Donegal to Kerry, e.g, L.Eske (top) and L. Coomasaharn (bottom).

Into the last century populations existed in the midlands and along the east coast, but all of these are now probably extinct.

World Wide Distribution
The arctic char has the most northerly geographic distribution of any freshwater fish. The centre for distribution of arctic char in which it reaches its maximum density is the frozen coastline of the Arctic Ocean. The southerly extent of their range approximates that of the extent of winter sea ice, roughly between 64° and 65° N.
Arctic char are at the extreme limit of their southerly distribution in Ireland.

The Arctic Circle
Arctic char from the arctic circle display the most dramatic colors during the spawning season. The male char (bottom) is in typical spawning livery.

These fish would have fed at sea among the icebergs of the high north. Here they form an important part of the diet of the the Innuit.

Arctic Char in Europe
Arctic char in Europe are also under threat. In the past few decades more char populations have been lost to pollution and development than in the previous centuries. This makes the remaining populations all the more valuable and vulnerable. Unfortunately, there are few projects in these countries which aim to protect their remaining populations of char.