On the Skate Campaign
Cape fishermen continue to prioritize fishery fieldwork on skates as a way of contributing to the government’s understanding of the species.
You may recall from our Fall Newsletter that our fishermen advocated for and were granted an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) for the 2014-2105 fishing year, which expired on June 23, 2015. This special permit allowed 14 fishing vessels the ability to retain and sell a limited volume of barndoor skates.
Barndoor skates are much larger than the skates you may have seen being offloaded at the Chatham Fish Pier; they grow up to five feet in length and were listed as a species of concern in 2003. Since then, fishermen have been prohibited from catching and selling them. Now, the species is recovering, and when fishermen grew frustrated with having to throw numerous barndoor skates overboard, sometimes dead, they applied for the special permit. They have used the opportunity to collect valuable data on the length, sex and distribution of the species, as well as environmental variables at the time of harvest. This data gets put in a report and sent to the government science center.
The 14 vessels were each granted a 500 lb. daily trip limit. This worked well during the summer fishing season, but soon they realized it was too restrictive during the winter season, when they catch the most barndoors skates. Distressed fishermen reported that they often had to toss away thousands of pounds of the skates that they caught incidentally. This fueled another frustration.
The Fishermen’s Alliance recently filed an interim report that highlighted the summer success of the current trip limit, but also included a request for an increase to 2,000 lbs. We hope this will help eliminate the extra bycatch our fishermen are forced to throw over during the winter fishing months. The report also identified that our fleet never came close to reaching the total pounds of barndoor skates allowed in the special permit: only 12.5% of the 168,000 lbs. were caught.
We are waiting for approval of the special permit for next year and the increase in the daily catch limit of this rebounding species. In the meantime, we have been granted an extension on the original permit and added two additional vessels to the project. We will keep collecting data on barndoor skates until September, and we hope to hear more between now and then.