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Scientists: Hard To Fish Areas Of The Seabed May Act As Refuges For Endangered Skate

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BANGOR, Maine -- Marine scientists working in the Celtic Sea have discovered a natural refuge for the critically endangered flapper skate.

Many elasmobranchs (sharks, rays and skates) are highly vulnerable to over-fishing, but a new paper in the open access journal PLOS ONE shows that small areas of the seabed that experience below-average fishing intensity can sustain greater populations of these species.

The study reveals that such refuge areas in the Celtic Sea support at least ten species of elasmobranch, including the rare blue skate (Dipturus flossada) and related flapper skate (Dipturus intermedia). Dipturus was previously considered to represent a single species (D. batis), but made the news in 2009 when a case of misidentification was revealed (BBC news: Science/Nature). Both species are now listed as critically endangered but populations of the flapper skate, which can grow up to 2.5 metres in length, are considered to be under greatest threat from extinction. European Union regulations mandate that fishermen throw back any flapper skate but its slow growth and reproduction mean that even very low levels of fishing mortality are now unsustainable for this species.

Scientists from Queen's University Belfast, Bangor University and the Irish Marine Institute carried out the study. Lead researcher Dr. Samuel Shephard suggests "the discovery of a Celtic Sea stronghold for flapper skate provides a remarkable opportunity to help save a species on the verge of extinction". Professor Michel Kaiser, Chair in Marine Conservation at Bangor University added "some have previously argued that areas of little interest to the fishing industry are not worthy of conservation, however this study clearly overturns that perception and highlights just how important some of these areas are".

Importantly, the fishing industry has reacted positively to the 'win-win' situation that areas of little commercial interest have potential as important marine reserves. Professor Dave Reid presented the information to industry leaders, and this has led to the inclusion of these areas in proposed management plans for elasmobranchs in the Irish and Celtic Seas. Eibhlín O'Sullivan, CEO of the Irish South &West Fishermen's Organisation responded "The Irish Fishing Industry has been working with the Marine Institute for the past 18 months on developing a management plan for Skates and Rays. This new research adds valuable information for the identification of potential seasonally closed areas". Professor Reid noted "this is a great model for collaboration on conservation between the fishing industry and scientists".

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Reader Comments

2 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

When I worked for FAO fisheries department we called these areas 'refugia'. I am currently trying to convince the EU that closing a good portion of rocky bottom near the shelf edge as refugia, would make them function as spawning areas. John
   comment# 1   - john f. caddy · rome, italy · Nov 17, 2012 @ 8:58am

I have surfed and scubaed on the California coast for 0ver 40 years. The need for protection zones are imminent, Off the coast of Sonoma, California is a marine sanctuary. Thanks to the political persuations of Politician Lynn Woolsey and the California coastal commission. Surf rider foundation also likes Marine sanctuaries. Don't forget the work of World renowned Scripts Institute of oceanograpy. The california state fisheries dept.There is also the UC Davis Calif. Fisheries study of oceanographic fishes on the Sonoma Coast. "You can judge a Nation by how it treats its animals".M.Ghandi. The U.S. Does a good job Now of regulation. One only needs to read Cannery Rowe, as to find out what nature provided long before we over fished. Not to mention Whaling. When a surfer or swimmer enters the water off our famous wine coast He She enters the food chain, white sharks. Lets get rid of open ocean dragnets world wide. Remember what the coasts of Europe were teaming with . Cryogenic freezing of blue fin Tuna for future consumption is criminal.Like Diamond Hoarding for future market speculation.Remember," what Lies below ,lies above on your diner plate" Preserve fish habitat. Big fish eat little fish, Why disturb the natural cycles of mother ocean? Teach your children to respect the ocean, Flipper taught us like Lassy the compassion we all need to act like stewards of a rich reward.
   comment# 2   - Ed Corn · Rohnert park ,calif. USA · Nov 20, 2012 @ 1:32pm
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