Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - All applicable methods
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Western English Channel
Stock detail - VIIe
Fish type - White flat fish
Blonde ray is potentially vulnerable to exploitation because it matures at a large size and produces relatively few young. As a result, juvenile and immature fish can be overfished before they have had a chance to breed.
Blonde ray are an inshore species belonging to the Rajidae family of skates and rays. Maximum length is 110 cm. Length at maturity is 81-83 cm at ages 4-5 years. Found predominantly on sand and steep sandbanks and commonly occurs at depths from 14-146 m. Relatively few eggs are produced, meaning that few juveniles will be produced each year. In the English Channel, females with well-developed eggs occur from February to August. Eggs are laid in cases known as mermaids purses. Blonde ray breed in the Bristol Channel in April and May.
Western English Channel
Although it has a relatively broad geographical range, this species is most abundant from the British Isles to Portugal. Blonde ray is relatively common in inshore and shelf waters (down to about 150 m) in the English Channel and Irish Sea, Bristol Channel and St George's Channel. In the Irish and Celtic Sea R. brachyura has a patchy distribution but can be locally abundant on particular grounds. It also has a patchy occurrence in the North Sea where it is at the edge of its distributional range. It is a large-bodied skate species and is the most vulnerable of the main commercial ray species in the Western English Channel. No formal stock assessments have been undertaken for this species and so the state of the stock in this area is unknown. The patchy distribution of this species makes it difficult for scientists to interpret survey data, and its tendency to form aggregations makes it vulnerable to localized depletion. Blonde ray is assessed as Near Threatened by IUCN - The World Conservation Union. There are currently insufficient data to present longer-term trends in species-specific landings for this stock. Based on the ICES approach to data-limited stocks, ICES advises that landings should be reduced by 20%. Based on estimated species-specific landings, this would imply landings of 310 t in each of 2015 and 2016.
There is no specific management plan for demersal elasmobranchs and no management plan for this stock or any skate stock in the ICES area. 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 is a combined TAC in place for all species of skate and ray in the North and Norwegian Seas. Previously there was no requirement to report species of skate and ray individually so they were reported together as 'skates and rays', which makes it difficult for scientists to evaluate the stock status of different skate and ray species. However, from 2008 EU countries must report species specific landings of major skate and ray species in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea, so that in the future scientists will be able to advise on species specific catches. 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. 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.
Demersal elasmobranchs in these regions are caught in mixed target and non-target fisheries. TACs alone may not adequately protect these stocks as restrictive TACs may lead to high discarding. 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. The species is also targeted by sea anglers. There is no Minimum Landing Size (MLS) specified for skates and rays in EU waters outside 6 miles. MLS is specified in some coastal waters of England and Wales, e.g. in Kent and Essex Sea Fisheries District, 40cm (wing to wing), South Wales 45cm, Cumbria SFC 45cm. 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 and Seafish Industry Authority, to produce an identification guide to help distinguish different species. Bycatch of marine mammals and other non-target species can be problematic in fixed-net fisheries. However, use of management measures, including acoustic devices called 'pingers', can help reduce bycatch of marine mammals. See Fishing Methods for more details.
ICES Advice 2014 Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/rjh-7e.pdf http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/161691/0
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