April 21, 2009
University of New England marine biologist James Sulikowski, Ph.D., and his colleague John Mandelman, Ph.D., of the New England Aquarium, were recently awarded a $247,000 grant from NOAA-National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct research on the management of five species of skates that inhabit the Gulf of Maine.
There are five species of skates indigenous to the Gulf of Maine. These include the barndoor (Dipturus laevis), thorny (Amblyraja radiata), winter (Leucoraja ocellata), smooth (Malacoraja senta), and little (Leucoraja erinacea) skates.
Four of these species' biomass levels are currently near or below their respective threshold levels. Once this occurs, a species is considered at risk of localized extinction. As a consequence, three are prohibited from commercial landing and a fourth has recently been categorized as over fished.
Despite a prohibited status and a low commercial value, all species are captured incidentally as bycatch in regional commercial otter-trawl operations and are discarded (thrown back) at sea. To date, information regarding discard mortality in any of these species is non-existent. This lack of fundamental information compromises accurate stock assessments and makes regulation of these species difficult.
To address this, Sulikowski, an assistant professor in UNE's Department of Marine Sciences, and Mandelman will assess the immediate (catch viability/condition) and short-term discard survivability of four of the species in the Gulf of Maine (winter, smooth, little, and thorny skates), following capture by otter-trawl and gillnet.
Working with different fishermen and various geographic areas in the Gulf of Maine, the researchers will deposit skates in circular net pens for 72-hour in-situ holding trials, and then quantify the survivability.
The results from this 30-month cooperative study will provide the National Marine Fisheries Service with information necessary for the proper management of each species.
NOAA Fisheries Service is a federal agency dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems.
As a steward, NOAA Fisheries Service conserves, protects, and manages living marine resources in a way that ensures their continuation as functioning components of marine ecosystems, affords economic opportunities, and enhances the quality of life for the American public.