At their annual meeting held September 21-25 in Bergen, Norway, Parties to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) agreed to reduce the annual quota for thorny skates from 13,500 metric tons (t) to 12,000 in 2010. The action amounts to a very small step in the right direction, given that the new quota for this overfished species is still twice the level recommended by NAFO scientists. Although excessive, the NAFO skate quota is still the world’s only international catch limit for a species of shark or ray.*
NAFO Contracting Parties include Canada, Cuba, Denmark (in respect to the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Estonia, the European Union, France (in respect to Saint Pierre et Miquelon), Iceland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway, Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States.
Northwest Atlantic skates have been targeted and kept as bycatch mainly by fishermen from Canada, Spain, Portugal, and Russia. In recent years, Spanish fishing vessels have taken more than half the skate catches reported to NAFO. Thorny skates make up the vast majority (~95%) of this mixed skate species catch.
Thorny skates are classified as Critically Endangered off New England and Vulnerable globally, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The NAFO Scientific Council reported marked declines in thorny skate abundance from 1985 to 1994; levels have remained relatively low since with slight recovery since 2005. In 2008 and 2009, the Scientific Council advised NAFO Parties to hold thorny skate catches to more than 6,000t in order to promote recovery.
NAFO established the skate quota in 2004 at 13,500t (the Scientific Council recommended 11,000t that year). The U.S. has been the primary proponent of NAFO limits on thorny skate catch and has a long history of supporting the scientific advice with respect to the species.
In 2010, the EU share of the NAFO skate quota will fall from 8,500t to 7,556t. Canadian and Russian allotments will decrease from 2250 to 2000t. Other interested countries must share the remaining 444t. The U.S. does not engage in the NAFO skate fishery and has prohibited the retention of thorny skates in domestic fisheries.
The NAFO Scientific Council will re-examine the population status and safe fishing levels for Northwest Atlantic thorny skate in June 2010. NAFO Parties will consider the associated advice next September in Dartmouth, Canada. The Shark Alliance will continue to urge NAFO Parties to bring the world’s only international ray quota in line with scientific advice.
*outside regional quota agreements between the EU and Norway.