There will be a free talk tonight, Monday, June 1, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on skates at Boston’s New England Aquarium, Harborside Learning Lab.
By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
There is a seemingly endless cycle in New England fishing: Once one species is regulated, fishermen tend to start hunting the unregulated ones. Then the unregulated species become regulated and the cycle begins again.
Fishermen went after cod, until they were told they couldn’t catch as many. Then it was spiny dogfish – the white fish found in British fish and chips. Monkfish, spiny sea urchins – even the malodorous hagfish, better known as slime eels, were eventually turned to for exportation to Asia after restrictions tightened around other species.
By the time science catches up with the market, many of the species are already so depleted severe fishing restrictions are necessary – drawing the ire of fishermen and, of course, a compelling reason to find other kinds of sea life to go after.
Now skates – those sting ray like triangle-shaped fish – may be the latest example. In the Gulf of Maine there are five main skate species: thorny, smooth, winter, barndoor and little skates, some of which have undergone volatile population swings. While long harvested for food and lobster bait, most fishermen groaned when their nets accidentally pulled up skates tangled in the twine and the animals were unceremoniously tossed overboard.
But recently, winter skate wings – and other skate wings – have become sought after in Europe because their taste and texture resemble scallops.
“There is definitely a lot of demand right now,’’ said John W. Mandelman, research scientist at the New England Aquarium’s Edgerton Research Laboratory. He and his colleagues are researching what happens to skates when they are tossed back in the ocean after being pulled up in fishing nets. While knowledge is growing, it is not even clear if the animals die when accidentally caught.
Skates may be suffering a bit more because unlike other fish, they are vulnerable to rapid depletion because they do not produce a lot of young and grow slowly.
Now, measures are being taken to protect skates that have shown the most declines or are most at risk.
What fish will be next?