Ray, Blonde

Raja brachyura

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northern North Sea and West of Scotland
Stock detail

4 and 6


Picture of Ray, Blonde

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The stock status is unknown. Blonde ray is potentially vulnerable to exploitation because it matures at a large size and produces relatively few young. As a result, young blonde rays can be overfished before they have had a chance to reproduce.

There is a lack in basic information about the stock. Recommended landings are at very low levels (6 tonnes). There is no specific management plan for skates and rays in these waters. They are managed under a total allowable catch (TAC) for many skates and rays but greater protection is needed.

Both demersal otter trawls and beam trawls occasionally catch endangered species and beam trawls can pose significant risks to the habitat. However, management can mitigate these risks e.g. area closures which is generally better in inshore waters.

Biology

Blonde ray are an inshore species belonging to the Rajidae family of skates and rays. Maximum length is 110 cm. Length at maturity is 81-83 cm at ages 4-5 years. Found predominantly on sand and steep sandbanks and commonly occurs at depths from 14-146 m. Relatively few eggs are produced, meaning that few juveniles will be produced each year. In the English Channel, females with well-developed eggs occur from February to August. Eggs are laid in cases known as “mermaids purses”. Blonde ray breed in the Bristol Channel in April and May. Although it has a relatively broad geographical range, this species is most abundant from the British Isles to Portugal. Blonde ray is relatively common in inshore and shelf waters (down to about 150 m) in the English Channel and Irish Sea, Bristol Channel and St George’s Channel. Blonde rays are particularly vulnerable to depletion due to their late age at maturity, slow growth and they produce few young. Little is known about connectivity of blonde ray stocks, yet, connectivity is crucial for managing skates and rays and provides a long-term perspective of their population trends.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Stock Area

Northern North Sea and West of Scotland

Stock information

The stock status is unknown. This is mainly because catches are too low for data to be useful and the quality of landings and discard data is too poor to create stock assessments. There are important amounts of Blonde Ray taken in recreational fisheries but are not recorded. The blonde ray has a patchy occurrence in the North Sea where it is at the edge of its distributional range, which make it difficult to measure their population sizes.

Scientists advise that the precautionary approach is applied, and that landings should be no more than 6 tonnes in each of the years 2018 and 2019. Landings peaked in 2013 at around 24 tonnes but have since decreased to 14 tonnes in 2016. However, landings have been gradually increasing over recent years.

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 but more management and protection is required to prevent over-exploitation of these animals and their habitats.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Blonde rays in this fishery are almost exclusively caught in bottom trawl fisheries. Blonde rays are normally caught as a bycatch species.

Bycatch
There is a lack of information available on other bycatch species but in the southern North sea, common bycatch in bottom trawls include mixed crabs, urchins, lesser spotted dogfish, nursehound, dragonet, starry ray, smelt. ETP species including Angelshark and Common skate (both critically endangered (IUCN)) which were depleted through fishing in this area. Invertebrates such as crabs and urchins are vulnerable to damage.

Discards
Because 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 varied between 25%-100% in beam trawl surveys. However, in this specific area, discarding rates and survival is unknown. In the latter part of 2016, Dutch pulse fisheries showed that over 80% of the total catch of Blonde Ray in the southern North Sea were discarded.

Habitat
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. Fishing occurs over a mixture of seafloor types. 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.

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 2017. Blonde ray (Raja brachyura) in Subarea 6 and Division 4.a (North Sea and West of Scotland). Published 6 October 2017 rjh.27.4a6 DOI: 10.17895/ices.pub.3181. Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/rjh.27.4a6.pdf

Project Inshore MSC Pre-Assessment Database. 2013. North Sea and Channel (IVa VII d/e): Blonde ray: Demersal trawl (TR1: >100mm). Available at: http://msc.solidproject.co.uk/inshore-uoc.aspx?id=8310&s=6268&a=

Marandel, F., Lorance, P., Andrello, M., Charrier, G., Le Cam, S., Lehuta, S. Trenkel, V.M. 2017. Insights from genetic and demographic connectivity for the management of rays and skates. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences IN PRESS.

Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) - 56th Plenary Meeting Report (PLEN-17-03); Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.