Due to market and regulatory factors, Rajidae skates are routinely discarded by commercial otter trawlers in the western North Atlantic. Accounting for post-release mortality is therefore essential to total fishing mortality estimates, stock status and management of this group of fishes. However, despite a presumed species-specific range in tolerance, few studies have investigated the short-term post-release mortality among skates indigenous to the western North Atlantic following capture by mobile fishing gears, and never in the Gulf of Maine. This study addresses this shortfall for the prohibited thorny skate, Amblyraja radiate and smooth skate, Malacoraja senta, and the targeted winter skate, Leucoraja ocellata, and little skate, Leucoraja erinacea. Of 1288 skates evaluated, negligible immediate mortality was observed at the time of capture, even in relation to the largest catches and/or most prolonged tows. However, injury frequency was moderate, with highest levels in the smooth (60%) and thorny (52%) skates. Aside from the smooth skate (59%), 72. h mortality rates were low overall (19% across all species when accounting tow durations indicative of the fishery), with the winter skate (8%) exhibiting the lowest levels. Logistic regression modeling revealed tow duration as the most universal predictor of condition and 72. h mortality, while catch biomass, sex, temperature changes, and animal size also held influence in certain species. Although in general the studied species appear more resilient to trawl capture and handling than previously estimated, interspecific differences must be accounted for when managing this group.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science