Fish Radio
Skate studies could restart fishery in GOA
August 16, 2016

Big Skate Credit: dfw.state.or.us

Big Skate
Credit: dfw.state.or.us

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – To fish or not to fish: that’s the question when it comes to skates. More after this –

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A few skate fisheries have occurred on and off in the central Gulf over the past decade. More recently, managers have put on the brakes because of the fast pace –

People were coming back with the entire yearly quota of skates allocated in one single trip. They knew exactly where to fish them and bringing back huge amounts.  They exceeded quota the first year, second year had trip limits but still hit quota quickly.  

Thomas Farrugia is a grad student at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks studying the possibility of a big and long nose skate fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. But first, there is a lot to be learned before it gets a green light.

There’s quite a bit of skate fishing going on in the Atlantic , both on US and European side, but here in Alaska it’s hasn’t been a target for very long at all. So we really don’t know that much about them.

Skates can fetch nice prices – in past fisheries, around 45 cents a pound for whole fish, and a dollar for skate wings frozen at sea.

Currently, Alaska skates can only be retained as five percent bycatch of a targeted catch, like cod or halibut.   About 4.5 million pounds are taken in Gulf fisheries each year. Now, some fishermen want to reinstate a separate skate quota.

It would be a short season, maybe derby style where for a week all these boats would be fishing only skates but then not catch them for the rest of the year.  

 Other Gulf fishermen want to leave the skate take as a bycatch portion of their catches so they can retain it over a longer period.

Regardless, Farrugia’s studies are yielding a lot of new skate data. A yearlong satellite tag project showed for the first time that skates really get around the Gulf.

Basically what we found from there is about half of the ones we tagged made fairly long movements over hundreds of nautical miles which we hadn’t been sure about before. And the big take away message from that is they are able to move extensively and when they do that, it makes it so we have to look at the entire GOA population as one big stock.

Farrugia calls skates ‘flat sharks’ because the two are identical biologically.

These are related to sharks –flat sharks and have in general a very slow life history. They mature late, they grow old and don’t produce a lot of off spring – two to 8 offspring every time they mate. They are not like pollock or halibut that produce a lot of eggs at a time.

Farrugia is mining data aging from the 1990s to derive current estimates of Gulf skate populations. He hopes within the year to create an official stock assessment that will be useful for fish managers.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. (www.oceanbeauty.com) In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.

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