Ray, Smalleyed

Raja microocellata

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel
Stock detail

7d,e


Picture of Ray, Smalleyed

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The stock status is unknown. However, populations are lower than years previous.

Smalleyed rays caught in area 7e must be promptly released and scientific advice is to reduce landings by 20% in 2017 and 2018. Apart from this, there is no specific management plan for skates and rays in these waters but there is some improved management in inshore waters. They are managed under a total allowable catch (TAC) for many skates and rays but greater protection is needed.

Demersal otter trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish and potential catch of endangered species; but the catch of unwanted species can be reduced e.g. by adapting fishing gear.

Biology

Small-eyed rays belong to the Rajidae family which includes skates and rays. They are a small to medium sized inshore and coastal species, attaining a maximum length of 80 to 90 cm and weight of 8 kg. Total length at maturity is between 69 and 78 cm. Age at maturity is unknown. Maximum age is 12 years.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Stock Area

English Channel

Stock information

The state of the stock in this area is unknown. In the last 2 years, the population is estimated to be 27% below the preceding five-year average. Meanwhile, fishing mortality is unknown but may be increasing.

Scientists advise that landings should be reduced to 36 tonnes in 2017 and 2018. The species must be returned promptly to the sea when caught in area 7e. The IUCN have rated the species as “Near Threatened” in the Northeast Atlantic.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There are no management plans or objectives for this species. Skates and rays are managed under five regional quotas (called TACs) applied to a group of species. This has been deemed as an unsuitable method for protecting individual species, but species-specific quotas may not be suitable because it may increase unnecessary discarding of skates and rays.

Other management methods are currently being considered at an EU level. Methods to avoid catching rays include closed areas and seasons and modifying fishing gear to observe their escape behaviour and design fishing gear accordingly. However, it is difficult to avoid catching rays in fishing gear (because of their peculiar shape) so fishing gear modifications have been suggested to improve the potential survival of rays so that they can be quickly and safely discarded.

There is no official minimum landing size for many skates and rays outside the 6 nautical mile limit in European waters. However, some inshore areas mandate a minimum landing size (40-45 cm disc width). There is direct management of fishing effort, depending on fishing gear, mesh size and area, however, this only applies to vessels of >15 m and therefore, inshore (generally smaller) fleets are generally not effort managed to the same extent. There are catch composition rules limit the percentage of skates that can be landed by demersal otter trawls (dependent on the mesh size of the net).

More information is needed on skate and ray catches, discard and survival rates. Landings data doesn’t tell scientists much about the health of the stock. The Fisheries Science Partnership project connects fishermen and scientists to fill in important knowledge gaps.

Surveillance legislation is underpinned by EU Law, and requires all vessels above 12m in length use vessel monitoring systems (VMS), and mandate at-sea and aerial surveillance and inspections of vessels, logbooks and sales documents.

Some protected areas have been designated in these waters but offshore areas are not sufficiently managed. Some of these MPAs are designated to protect rays such as the Offshore Overfalls MCZ which is designated partly to protect the undulate ray’s nursery areas. The inshore waters, such as the Isle of White SAC, ensure management, which may provide protection for various life stages e.g. undulate rays. Although the connectivity of these species is unknown and therefore, these waters need sufficient management and protection to prevent over-exploitation of these animals and their habitats.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Smalleyed rays in this area are caught mainly using bottom trawls and fixed nets.

Bycatch
Common bycatch in bottom trawls include mixed crabs, urchins, lesser spotted dogfish, nursehound, Dragonet, starry ray, smelt. Angelshark and common skate (critically endangered, IUCN) were depleted through incidental capture in trawls in this area. Invertebrates such as crabs and urchins are vulnerable to damage.

Discards
Discards from beam and otter trawls can be high. Otter trawls appear to catch more Thornback rays than beam trawls and are not selective: discards are high among Thornback rays <55 cm total length. Since skate and rays are a peculiar shape and size, it is difficult for them to escape from fishing gear once caught. Therefore, other methods must be used to increase their likelihood for survival: skates and rays are generally a hardly species but their survival rate after discarding is extremely variable depending on fishing and handling methods: discard survival from gill nets after 2 days is 88% whereas its about 25%-100% survived in beam trawl surveys.

Habitat
The level of information is limited for vessels <12m because they are not required to have Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS). Bottom trawling has the potential to cause significant impact to habitat such as removing or destroying physical features and reducing biota and habitat complexity. Therefore, the recovery time of the seabed after trawling varies greatly and depends on the fishing gear, the substrate, intensity of the trawl and accustomed the seabed is to natural disturbance. IFCAs ensure bottom trawling occurs in areas where there will be minimal damage to habitats such as mobile sands, however, in offshore areas, bottom trawling can occur over vulnerable habitats. Smalleyed rays are normally found on mixed sediments and rock or hard substrates.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Dab
Halibut, Atlantic (Farmed)
Halibut, Pacific
Megrim
Plaice
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Sole, Lemon
Turbot (Caught at sea)
Turbot (Farmed)

References

ICES 2016. Small-eyed ray (Raja microocellata) in divisions 7.d and 7.e (English Channel). Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2016/2016/rje-ech.pdf