NOAA Fisheries recently listed Atlantic sturgeon for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists and managers are reviewing the impacts of skate and other Northeast fisheries on this species and will work with the fishing industry to find ways to minimize potential impacts of these fisheries on Atlantic sturgeon.
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Skate, Big Skate, Spotted Skate, and Eyed Skate
U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina (mainly Massachusetts and Rhode Island)
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
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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). 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 industrial fishery in Southern New England in the 1950s and fishing by foreign boats during the 1960s. Today, the primary target species in the skate fishery are winter and little skates. Winter skates are harvested for their wings for human consumption, and little skates are harvested as bait for lobster fisheries. Most skate is caught incidentally in fisheries for groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Fishermen are not allowed to possess barndoor, thorny, and smooth skates due to their low population levels.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Winter skates live on sand and gravel bottoms in the Northwest Atlantic, most commonly in Georges Bank and Southern New England. They’re occasionally found in the Gulf of Maine, on the Scotian Shelf, 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.
Winter skate have large bodies and can grow up to 5 feet in length. They reproduce at a late age, when they’re about 2.5 feet long and 12 years old. 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, and fish. They can live about 20 years.
A relative of sharks and stingrays, 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.
Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center estimate the abundance of skate using information they gather during bottom trawl surveys. They’ve 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.
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. In fact, 2010 estimates show that winter skate abundance has grown significantly, exceeding the target population level.
Skates are considered data-poor species. Scientists and managers 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 skate (i.e., caught but thrown back), species identification, habitat preferences, and the structure of the stock.
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 low economic value and most are discarded. These complicating factors must be considered in managing this resource.
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 located throughout the region, harvest winter skates for their wings when targeting other species like 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 (greater 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.
Who’s in charge? New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries
Current regulations: Skate Fishery Management Plan
- You must have a valid 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 limits on the amount of skate each boat can bring back from one trip (trip limits).
- 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.
Skate 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 have increased in recent years, partially in response to increased demand for lobster bait and increased export markets for skate wings, but also due to improved data on the fishery. Landings in 2009 totaled 18,153 metric tons and preliminary landings in 2010 totaled 17,665 metric tons.
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.
Humans only eat the wings of skate. 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 cartilage body would make this process economically infeasible. (Seafood Handbook, 2011)
|Serving Size||100 g (3½ oz) raw|
|Calories from Fat||9.0|
|Total fat||1 g|
|Saturated fat||0 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||0 g|
|Dietary Fiber||0 g|
Winter Skate Table of Nutrition