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Winter Skate

Leucoraja ocellata

Illustration of a Winter Skate

Also Known As

  • Skate
  • Big skate
  • Spotted skate
  • Eyed skate

U.S. wild-caught winter skate is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Near target level and fishing rate promotes population growth.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level.

Habitat Impacts

Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat that are affected by some kinds of trawl gear.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Mild flavor that is similar to scallops.

  • Texture

    Firm and stringy.

  • Color

    The meat is off-white, sometimes pinkish, when raw and is off-white when cooked.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage the winter skate fishery.
  • Managed under the Northeast Skate Complex Fishery Management Plan:
    • Valid open access permit is required to catch, possess, transport, or sell skate.
    • Annual catch limits for winter, little, clearnose, and rosette skates, as well as response measures if the catch limits are exceeded. Winter skates are the only species targeted for human consumption. Little skate is used as bait for lobster fisheries and clearnose and rosette skates are usually discarded.
    • Fishermen are prohibited from retaining smooth (Gulf of Maine only), barndoor, and thorny skates.
    • Trip limits.
    • Fishermen and dealers must report their catch by species.
    • Management measures in other fisheries also indirectly aid in the recovery of the overfished skate species and conserve the resource.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2015, commercial landings totaled 10,900 metric tons, and were valued at $5.3 million.
    • More than half of skate landings come from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
    • Skates are harvested in two different fisheries, one for wings for human consumption and one for lobster bait.
      • In the bait fishery, vessels from southern New England target mostly 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 look nearly identical.
      • The wing fishery is labor-intensive because the wings need to be cut into fillets, but participation has grown recently due to increasing restrictions on other, more profitable groundfish species.
      • In the wing fishery, mainly trawlers and gillnetters harvest winter skates when targeting other species such as groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Fishermen keep the skates if the price is profitable.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Most skates are caught incidentally in otter trawl fisheries targeting other more valuable species, such as groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Otter trawls can impact habitat depending on where they are used. They can also interact with marine mammals (e.g., whales, harbor porpoises, and seals) and sea turtles. Management measures including closed areas, restrictions on gear and fishing effort, and modifying fishing gear to reduce contact with habitat help reduce these impacts and interactions.
    • Skates are also caught in bottom gillnet fisheries, which have less of an impact on habitat.
    • Skates are caught and discarded as bycatch in numerous fisheries, but the rate of discards has decreased in recent years as the value of skate products has increased.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2017 stock assessment, winter skate are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing. Scientists use a simple index method to detect significant changes in the annual fisheries survey. Winter skates are not subject to overfishing based on this method.
  • Seven skate species, including winter skate, are assessed and managed as one northeast skate complex. There is a lack of data for this complex. New requirements to report skate landings by species should improve the data-poor nature of this complex.
  • 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. 

Location

  • Winter skates range from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Habitat

  • Winter skate live on sand and gravel bottoms in the northwest Atlantic, most commonly in southern New England and on Georges Bank. They are occasionally found in the Gulf of Maine, on the Scotian Shelf, in the 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. They are generally offshore during the summer and early autumn and inshore during winter and spring.

Physical Description

  • Skates are a relative of sharks and rays and have a kite-like shape.
  • Winter skates are light brown and covered with small dark spots.
  • Small spines cover most of their back. 

Biology

  • Winter skates have large bodies and can grow up to 5 feet in length.
  • They can live for about 20 years.
  • They reproduce at a late age, when they’re approximately 11 years old and 2.5 feet long.
  • Skates 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.

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.

Last updated: 09/20/2018