Winter Skate

Winter Skate Image

Leucoraja ocellata

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Skate, Big Skate, Spotted Skate, and Eyed Skate

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina (mainly Massachusetts and Rhode Island)
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Winter Skate

Catch from a bottom trawl including some skates.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Seven species of skate are found along the North Atlantic coast of the United States: barndoor (Dipturus laevis), clearnose (Raja eglanteria), little (Leucoraja erinacea), rosette (L. garmani), smooth (Malacoraja senta), thorny (Amblyraja radiata), and winter skate (L. ocellata). However, winter skate is the only species targeted for human consumption. The other species are either prohibited (thorny, barndoor, and smooth skates), used for bait (primarily little skates), or discarded when encountered (little, clearnose, and rosette skates). Skates have been fished off New England since the late 1800s. However, landings never exceeded more than a few hundred metric tons until the advent of an industrial fishery in Southern New England in the 1950s and fishing by foreign boats during the 1960s. Winter skates are harvested for their wings (pectoral fins) for human consumption, and little skates are primarily harvested as bait for lobster fisheries. Fishermen are not allowed to possess barndoor, thorny, and smooth skates due to their low population levels. Thorny skate is listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act.

Looking Ahead

Most fishing vessels and seafood dealers do not report skate landings by species, which has hindered stock assessments. The New England Fishery Management Council is working on changes to the Skate Complex Fishery Management Plan that would require vessels and dealers to accurately report landings by species, and remove “unclassified” reporting options.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Winter skates range from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Cape Hatteras. They live on sand and gravel bottoms in the Northwest Atlantic, most commonly in Georges Bank and Southern New England. They are occasionally found in the Gulf of Maine, on the Scotian Shelf, Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and in the Mid-Atlantic. Skates are not known to migrate far, but they do move with the seasons as water temperature changes—generally offshore during summer and early autumn, and inshore during winter and spring.

 
TOP

BIOLOGY

Winter skate have large bodies and can grow up to 5 feet in length. They can live about 20 years. They reproduce at a late age, when they're about 11 years old and 2.5 feet long. Skate lay eggs year-round but have few offspring. Their eggs are enclosed in a hard leathery case called a "mermaid’s purse." The eggs incubate for 6 to 12 months, and young skates have the adult form when they hatch. Skates feed on a variety of organisms such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, squids, and fish.

 
TOP

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

A relative of sharks and rays, skates have a kite-like shape. Winter skates are light brown and covered with small dark spots. Small spines cover most of their back. Juveniles (less than 12 inches long) look similar to the little skate and the two are often indistinguishable. See NOAA Fisheries’ Skate Identification Guide for more detail.

 
TOP

OVERVIEW

Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center estimate the relative abundance of skate using information they gather during bottom trawl surveys. The surveys have been conducted these surveys in the fall and spring from the Gulf of Maine to Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic since the 1960s. State fisheries management agencies also conduct research surveys to track skate abundance.

 
TOP

POPULATION STATUS

Estimates of winter skate abundance, or biomass, peaked in the mid-1980s, declined through the early 1990s, and increased again in recent years to moderately high levels. Winter skate biomass is currently still above its target levels. However, the 2013 update that assessed all seven species in the Northeast Skate Complex determined that overfishing is occurring on winter skates. This is a status change from 2012, when overfishing was not occurring. The Northeast Skate Complex stock assessment is updated annually.

 
TOP

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Scientists and managers have limited information about the skate species. They have identified a number of research needs for the species including additional studies on life history (age, growth, and reproduction), the survival rates of discarded skates (i.e., caught but thrown back), species identification, habitat preferences, and the structure of the stock.

 
TOP
 

Overview

Several unique characteristics make the skate fishery unlike most others in the Northeast. Skates are managed as a complex that is considered data-poor—the stock status of some species is better than others, and each species has unique habitat and biological characteristics. Skates are typically caught incidentally in fisheries targeting other, more valuable species (e.g., groundfish, monkfish, and scallops). Few vessels solely target skates because they have comparatively low economic value and many are discarded. These complicating factors must be considered in managing this resource. Managers have implemented a variety of measures through the groundfish, monkfish, and scallop fishery management plans to protect habitat for many fish species, including closing some areas to fishing and modifying fishing gear to reduce contact with habitat.

TOP

Harvesting skate

Skates are harvested in two very different fisheries, one for lobster bait and one for wings for food.

  • A large number of vessels, mainly trawlers and gillnetters located throughout the region, harvest winter skates for their wings when targeting other species such as groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Fishermen keep the skates if the price is high enough. The fishery for skate wings evolved in the 1990s as skates were promoted as “underutilized species,” and fishermen shifted effort from groundfish and other then-troubled fisheries to skates and dogfish.
  • In the bait fishery, vessels from Southern New England target a combination of little skates (more than 90 percent) and, to a much lesser extent, juvenile winter skates (less than 10 percent). Juvenile winter skates are difficult to differentiate from little skates because they are nearly identical.
TOP

Management

Who’s in charge? New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries

Current regulations: Skate Fishery Management Plan

  • You must have a valid open access permit to catch, possess, transport, or sell skate.
  • Catch is controlled through annual catch limits and accountability measures – scientists determine the amount of catch the skate resource can support, and managers use this information to set a limit on the amount of skate fishermen can catch. They then allocate this limit between the bait and wing fisheries. There are also trip limits on the amount of skate each boat can bring back per trip.
  • Fishermen must report their catch.
  • Fishermen are prohibited from catching and keeping barndoor, thorny, and smooth skates due to their low population levels.
  • Management measures in other fisheries also indirectly aid in the recovery of the overfished skate species and conserve the resource.
TOP

Annual harvest

Skates are landed primarily in Massachusetts and Rhode Island (mainly New Bedford and Point Judith); 85-95 percent of the landings come from these two states. Reported landings increased from 1990 through 2008, partially in response to increased demand, but also due to improved data on the fishery. Landings have declined slightly since 2008 due primarily to trip limits on both the wing and bait fisheries. In 2012, skate wing landings in New England  were more than 10,000 metric tons, and bait landings were about 5,500 metric tons.

TOP

Economy

Because of the need to cut the wings, fishing for skates is labor-intensive. Nevertheless, participation in the skate wing fishery has grown recently due to increasing restrictions on other, more profitable groundfish species.

The majority of skate wings harvested in the United States are exported, mainly to France, Korea, and Greece. There is also a small domestic demand for processed skate wings from the white-tablecloth restaurant industry.

In 2012, skate wing landings were valued at approximately $5.5 million, and bait landings were valued at approximately $1.1 million.

TOP
 

OVERVIEW

Humans only eat the wings of skates. The meat of the wings has a striated, fan-like configuration. Each wing produces two fillets—one from the upper side and one from the lower. The meat is off-white, sometimes pinkish, when raw and is off-white when cooked.

Skate has a mild flavor similar to scallops. At one time it was rumored that skate wings were actually being cut up and sold as scallops. However, experts found that the skate’s cartilaginous body would make this process economically infeasible. (Seafood Handbook, 2011)

 
TOP

SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Year-round

 
TOP

NUTRITION

 

Servings 1
Serving Size 100 g (3½ oz) raw
Calories 90
Calories from Fat 9.0
Total fat 1 g
Saturated fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 20 g

Winter Skate Table of Nutrition

 
TOP
TOP