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 for blonde rays in this area is unknown and more monitoring is needed to determine if their populations are at healthy levels. Scientists advise that blonde ray landings in this area should be reduced to very low levels (6 tonnes). The landing obligation will be fully in place in 2019, which requires that all species with catch limits should be retained. However, skate and rays are excempt from the landing obligation due to their assumed high discard survival rates. 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. Further management of the species is advised e.g. through fishery closures to allow them to reproduce.

Both demersal otter trawls and beam trawls are associated with captures of Endangered, Threatened and Protected species and beam trawls can pose significant risks to the habitat. However, management can mitigate these risks e.g. with area closures. Management 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 blonde ray in this area is data-limited. It is unknown if blonde rays in this area are overfished and there are no indicators to determine any trends in biomass. Therefore, there is concern for biomass.

It is unknown if the species are undergoing overfishing in this area, however, in 2017, ICES species-specific landings minimum estimate based on reported landings was 7 tonnes whilst the landings corresponding to advice 6 tonnes. Therefore, there is no concern for fishing mortality. Resilience is low.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is no direct management plan for skates and rays in these waters. They are usually caught as bycatch in otter and beam trawl fisheries, which target finfish (including flatfish and gadoids).

Skates and rays are managed under five regional quotas (called TACs) which are applied to a group of species, rather than individual skate and ray species. This has been deemed as an unsuitable method for protecting individual species, but species-specific quotas may increase discarding.

The new North Sea Multi-Annual Plan (NSMAP), which came into effect July 2018, requires that several whitefish stocks (Cod, Haddock, Plaice, Saithe, Sole, Whiting, Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius), Northern Prawn and Norway lobster)) are fished at MSY by 2020. However, there is a requirement to take into effect “the difficulty of fishing all stocks at MSY at the same time”. Precautionary management should be applied to stocks where no adequate scientific information is available (which includes some skate and ray species). The precautionary approach should ensure that exploitation is appropriate to restore and maintain the harvested species populations above levels, which can produce MSY. The NSMAP also requires that discards should be avoided and reduced where possible and that a good environmental status should be achieved by 2020. The effectiveness of the NSMAP is to be re-evaluated in 2023 and every five years thereafter (European Commission 2018c).

The European Commission have considered that skates and rays caught in the North Sea (including in ICES divisions 2a and 3a, and ICES subarea) and Northwest waters (ICES subareas 6 and 7) with all fishing gears, should be exempt from the landing obligation, based on their assumed high survivability rates. However, Member States harvesting the stocks, should supply data to STECF to review the effectiveness of the exception and, by the 31 May each year produce a roadmap to increase survivability, fill in the data gaps identified by STECF and produce annual reports on the progress on survivability programmes. Any skates and rays that are discarded are required to be released immediately and below the sea surface (European Commission 2018a) (European Commission 2018b). In the Northwest waters (ICES subareas 6 and 7), any vessels fishing using bottom trawls or seines, with catches comprising more than 10% of haddock, cod and skates and rays combined, are required to use, either a) a 120 mm cod-end, or b) an eliminator trawl with 600 mm large mesh panels and a 100 mm cod-end. For vessels fishing using bottom trawls or seines with catches comprising less than 10% of haddock, cod and skates and rays combined, vessels are required to use a cod-end mesh size of 100 mm with a 100 mm squared mesh panel, except for vessels with catches comprising over 30% of Norway lobster (European Commission 2018b).

Other management methods are currently being considered at an EU level, fishing gear modifications, education, conservation measures (such as closed seasons during spawning times). Some protected areas have been designated in these waters but offshore areas are not sufficiently managed. There are no official minimum landing sizes except for some IFCAs, which, mandate a minimum landing size (40-45 cm disc width) in inshore waters in England and Wales.

Monitoring
ICES conduct assessments for most skate and ray species on a biennial basis. There are a lack of reference points for the stock, which prevents the development of management plans (Mangi et al. 2018). Data-limited approaches have been used (using some survey and landings data) but there are important information gaps. Projects including the Fisheries Science Partnership, Sustainable Management of rays and Skates (SUMARiS), National Evaluation of Populations of Threatened and Uncertain Elasmobranch Stocks (NEPTUNE) have been collecting data to close these data gaps.

Enforcement
Surveillance legislation is underpinned by EU Law, which require that 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. There is direct management of fishing effort for vessels since 2003, which allocates effort in kW-days to vessels of >15 m. However, the inshore (smaller) fleets are generally not managed by effort to the same extent.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

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

Bycatch
There is a lack of information available on other bycatch species. In the southern North Sea, common bycatch in bottom trawls include mixed crabs, urchins, lesser spotted dogfish, nursehound, dragonet, starry ray, smelt. Endangered, Threatened and Protected (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
The landing obligation will be fully implemented into our seas from 2019. Skates and rays will be exempt from the landing obligation, due to their higher likelihood of survival when discarded. Member states will be required to report on skate and ray catches and discards, and any improvements in selectivity programmes. it’s difficult to avoid catching skates and rays in nets and because of their peculiar shape and size; it’s also difficult for them to escape the net once captured. Therefore, selectivity programmes are in place reduce skate and rays catches and their survival rates. Discard rates of skates and rays vary dramatically (30 - 70%), depending on the marketability and management measures in place. For example, nearly all skates below 30 cm LT are discarded by English vessels (Silva et al., 2012). Bycatch can include juvenile skate as they can hatch from their egg cases at sizes of 10-20 cm LT and therefore, may be able to escape through the nets (Ellis et al. 2018). Their survival rates upon discarding is extremely variable, depending on the fishing and handling methods used to capture them. Elasmobranchs have the potential for relatively high survival rates because they do not have swim bladders (and thereby are not as impacted by pressure changes), they can have thick and abrasive skins and thorns (which protect them) and some have spiracles and a buccal-pump respiratory which excrete a mucus, which allows the skate or ray to ventilate and acquire oxygen when out of the water (Ellis et al. 2018). Inshore and coastal fisheries using trawls, longlines, gillnets and tangle nets generally show low at-vessel mortality. There are a lack of studies available on long-term skate and ray survival when they are released into the wild (Ellis et al. 2018).

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 how accustomed the seabed is to natural disturbance. Blonde rays inhabit offshore sandbanks and coastal shallows (Dedman et al. 2017). They occur over sandy, mud and gravel 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. 2018. Blonde ray (Raja brachyura) in Subarea 6 and Division 4.a (North Sea and West of Scotland). Available at: http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/rjh.27.4a6.pdf. Published 5 October 2018

Dedman, S., Officer, R. Brophy, D., Clarke, M. Reid, D. G. 2017. Towards a flexible Decision Support Tool for MSY-based Marine Protected Area design for skates and rays, ICES, 74 (2) pp. 576-587, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsw147

Ellis, J. R., Burt, G.J., Grilli, G., McCully Phillips, S.R., Catchpole, T.L., Maxwell, D.L. 2018. At-vessel mortality of skates (Rajidae) taken in coastal fisheries and evidence of longer-term survival. Journal of Fish Biology. 92, 1702-1719. doi:10.1111/jfb.13597

Mangi, S., Kupschus, S., Mackinson, S., Rodmell, D., Lee, A., Bourke, E., Rossiter, T., Masters, J., Hetherington, S., Catchpole, T. and Righton, D. 2018. Progress in designing and delivering effective fishing industry science data collection in the UK. Fish 00:1-21. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12279

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.