Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - All applicable methods
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - All Areas
Stock detail - I-IX
Fish type - White flat fish
The white skate is now very rare in European waters and is assessed as Critically Endangered by IUCN - the International Conservation Union. ICES scientists estimate that white skate is severely depleted and possibly extirpated from most parts of the Celtic Seas; the stock status in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian waters is unknown. Avoid eating. Since January 2009 it has been prohibited for fishermen to retain and land white skate caught in EU waters, with fishermen required to return all white skate caught to the sea unharmed where possible.
White skates belong to the Rajidae family which includes skates and rays. The white skate is a large coastal and slope species growing to a maximum length of 200cm and weight of 77 kg. Size and age at maturity and maximum age are unknown.
White skates are at the northern edge of their range in UK waters. However, there is evidence that the abundance of white skate has declined dramatically in the northeast Atlantic and has disappeared from the Irish Sea where it was once targeted commercially. The status of white skate cannot be evaluated in the absence of defined reference points. However, from landings and survey data, ICES estimates that white skate is severely depleted and possibly extirpated from most parts of the Celtic Sea, and there have been no records of this fish in recent scientific groundfish surveys. This species has a patchy and localized distribution and historically was common locally in some inshore areas of the Celtic Sea. ICES describes the extirpation of the species here as a cause of concern, and it is likely to be equally threatened in more southerly European waters, representing a potential loss in the fish diversity in the area. The International Conservation Union (IUCN) lists white skate as "Critically Endangered" in the Northeast Atlantic. It is also an EU Prohibited Species in areas IIa, III, IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX and X - meaning it cannot be targeted, retained, transhipped or landed, requiring them to be returned unharmed,where possible, to the sea.
There is no specific management plan for demersal elasmobranchs. Given the regional differences in skate assemblages and fisheries, ICES recommends that management measures for elasmobranchs be devloped on a case-by-case basis. Currently these species are managed under a common Total Allowable Catch (TAC). There are also prohibitions on fishing for, retaining and landing some species, including the most severely depleted species taken as bycatch in mixed demersal fisheries. ICES does not advise that general or species specific TACs be established at present because they are not the most effective means to regulate these bycatch species. TACs alone may not adequately protect these species as there are differences amongst species in their vulnerabilities to exploitation and a restrictive TAC may lead to discarding. Instead seasonal and/or area closures, effort restrictions and measures to protect spawning grounds for example are recommended.
Skates and rays form an important component of mixed demersal fisheries, taken as bycatch in beam and otter trawls, in seine fisheries and also in targeted fisheries using lines and set nets. This species is routinely landed under a general category of 'skate and rays', however recently the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) has issued a new instruction and guidance for fishermen and merchants to record all individual species of skates and rays around England and Wales, to help build an accurate picture of stocks of skates and rays here. Also targeted by sea anglers. No Minimum Landing Size (MLS) is specified for skates and rays in EU waters outside 6 miles. MLS specified in some coastal waters of England and Wales, e.g. Kent and Essex Sea Fisheries District, 40cm (wing to wing), South Wales 45cm, Cumbria SFC 45cm. Under current EU legislation, where a directed fishery for skates takes place, a mesh size in the cod-end of no less than 28cm is required and no less than 22cm in the rest of the trawl. In 2007, Fisheries Science Partnership projects (fishermen and scientists working together) were conducted to investigate discard survival rates in trawl fisheries to find out the survival rate for skates and rays that would be discarded with the introduction of a maximum landing length. The projects also aimed to develop species identification onboard and contribute to improved data collection. The Skate and Ray Producers Association has recently been working to improve the lack of species specific data by reporting their catches by species, into a central database. This follows previous collaborative work with the Shark Trust and Seafish Industry Authority, to produce an identification guide to help distinguish different species. There is a potential for damage to the seabed from trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species.
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