Fishermen to Collect Skate Data

Fishermen to Collect Skate Data
Barndoor skates. Photo/NEFSC/NOAA

The National Marine Fisheries Service has granted an Exempted Fishing Permit to the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, which will allow 14 vessels to possess and land barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis), in order to collect important data to inform fishery management decisions.

This project will utilize the expertise of commercial fishermen to collect information on a number of key aspects of barndoor skate biology. More importantly, the project will provide a greater understanding of barndoor skate catch composition and fishery impacts, which is critical to improving the understanding of population dynamics and overall fishing mortality.

“This is exactly the kind of research we want to be supporting,” said John Bullard, regional administrator for NOAA fisheries. “We need fishermen, with their on-the-water experience and knowledge, engaged in science so we can learn more about fish stocks and find ways to better utilize and get the best price for U.S.-caught seafood.”

Skates are cartilaginous fish that have two large “wings” that are harvested for their mild fillets, which are commonly found on restaurant menus. The barndoor skate fishery has been closed for many years to allow the population to recover.

“Stale and incomplete fisheries science undermines our management goals and hurts our fishing businesses,” said Tom Dempsey, Fishermen’s Alliance policy director. “This shows how fishermen can and do step up to help improve our fisheries.”

“I’m enthusiastic about this project because I see many more barndoor skates over a bigger area when I’m fishing,” said fisherman Jan Margeson, of the fishing vessel Great Pumpkin of Brewster, Massachusetts. “But, we haven’t had a full stock assessment for these skates in years, and this project will give us an opportunity collect current information that will help improve management.”

In addition, by allowing participating vessels to land and sell a fraction of the barndoor skates caught on commercial gillnet trips targeting monkfish and winter skates, this project will take the first steps toward analyzing and developing premium markets for barndoor skate seafood products.

“We believe this project will move us one step closer to realizing the full benefits of a profitable and sustainable barndoor fishery in the Northeast,” said fisherman Greg Connors, of the fishing vessel Constance Sea from Chatham. “We can use this pilot program to test if there is demand for this high quality skate wing in the marketplace again, since we worked so hard to rebuild the species. Now, we can take steps to rebuild the markets.”

For years, stock assessment scientists, fisheries managers and commercial fishermen in New England have recognized the need for targeted research to support improved population assessments and management for all Northeast skate species. However, much remains to be done to better understand important life history attributes and fishing-associated mortality of skates overall, and especially for barndoor skates, a once-depleted stock that survey indices and fishery-dependent information both suggest is rebounding. Unfortunately, due to the increasing competition for limited research dollars in the region and an expanding range of priority issues, these urgent research topics have not been adequately addressed.

Also, due to the length of the existing commercial landings prohibition and the resulting absence of barndoor skates in the market, there are many unanswered questions about the potential marketability of barndoor skate wings (relative to existing wing markets for other species, for instance). The sale and marketing component of the project will support the costs associated with the collection of the scientific information, answer important questions about current skate markets and potential premium markets for barndoor skate wings and serve to lay necessary groundwork for the future development of a commercial-scale, sustainable harvest of this rebounding resource.

The information collected during this project will be made available in aggregate for the purposes of informing future stock assessments, as well as management decisions.