Current Regulations Inadequate to Conserve Species

Contacts: Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians ● 503/757-4221
Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals ● 203/656-1522

thornback skate

thorny skate

WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service today to list four skate species-thorny skate (Amblyraja radiata), barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis), winter skate (Leucoraja ocellata), and smooth skate (Malacoraja senta)-as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. All four species are highly imperiled and threatened by continued human exploitation and a lack of adequate regulation to conserve remaining populations.

“We must go beyond arguing whether skates can continue to be sustainably killed by humans,” said Priscilla Feral, President of Friends of Animals. “Human capture and consumption will cause the extinction of these skates unless the National Marine Fisheries Service protects them under the Endangered Species Act.”

Skates are ray fish characterized by two broad, triangular fins (“wings”) and long, slender tails. Barndoor, winter and smooth skates occur in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the United States and Canada. The thorny skate-the most imperiled of the four-occurs in both the western and eastern Atlantic. They are found as far north as western Greenland and as far south as South Carolina. In the eastern Atlantic, they range from eastern Greenland and Iceland to the English Channel.

Thousands of tons of skates are caught annually for human consumption and for use as bait by lobster operations. Even more are unintentionally taken as bycatch in groundfish trawling gear. Although current regulations prohibit taking thorny and barndoor skates (and smooth skates in the Gulf of Maine), crews have difficulty identifying the species (especially juvenile skates) and over 99 percent of all landings are reported as “unclassified skates.” Further, because species-specific reporting requirements are not enforced, the prohibition on landing and possessing thorny, barndoor and smooth skates is essentially meaningless.

“The Endangered Species Act specifically authorizes protecting multiple species with similar appearance, life history and distribution, and which are threatened by the same factors,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians. “These four skates fit the bill.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the U.S. population of thorny skate as “critically endangered” and the barndoor, smooth and winter skates as “endangered” throughout their respective ranges.

Skates lay their eggs in brown, leathery, rectangular sacs with tendrils at each corner. Commonly known as a “mermaid’s purse,” they are frequently found washed ashore on beaches from Maine to South Carolina.