Species name: thorny skate
Nominated by: Shark Advocates International
IUCN Red List classification: Vulnerable
What is so special about your species?
Thorny skates have amazing features, support substantial fisheries, and face serious threats. Yet, they get so little love.
This fierce-looking, bottom-dwelling species has a dozen or more large thorns running down its back and tail. It’s found on both sides of the North Atlantic, with the degree of “thorniness” varying by latitude. In the UK, it’s known as the “starry ray” because the bases of its thorns are shaped like stars. Female thorny skates don’t begin laying egg cases (known as mermaids’ purses) until after age 10, and produce only about 15 viable hatchlings per year after incubation that can last three years! This species is believed to live longer than other North Atlantic skates (~30 years or more).
What are the threats to this species in the wild?
Like most rays and sharks, the main threat to thorny skates is overfishing. Their slow growing lifestyle makes them inherently susceptible to it. Skates are a popular food fish (particularly in Europe), and are also killed incidentally in fisheries targeting other species. The Northwest Atlantic thorny skate population has been seriously overfished and yet the international quota set by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) is significantly higher than scientists advise. In 2018, however, we have a great chance to change that! Scientists will update the thorny skate population status in June and issue fishery management advice that NAFO officials from governments all across the North Atlantic will consider in September.
What can people do to help your species?
Skates need love, seriously. As part of the Shark League, we’re working with Ecology Action Centre, Project AWARE, and Shark Trust to raise and channel the public support necessary to elevate the conservation priority of skates within governments, and secure the actions required for recovery. Concerned citizens (particularly in Canada, the EU, Norway, and the US) can help by letting policy makers know they care about thorny skates, and calling for a precautionary, science-based NAFO skate quota decision in September.
Follow #ElevateTheSkate and #SharkLeague on Twitter over the coming months to learn more and get involved. Thank you!