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Winter Skate (Leucoraja Ocellata)

Summary of Status Report

Winter skate in Canadian waters comprises four Designatable Units: Southern Gulf population, Eastern Scotian Shelf population, Georges Bank-Western Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy population, and Northern Gulf-Newfoundland population. The primary sources of data from which trends in abundance were estimated were those from the following fisheries-independent DFO RV surveys: Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Fall RV Survey (1971-2002), Scotian Shelf Summer RV Survey (1970-2003), Scotian Shelf 4VW Cod March RV Survey (1986-2002), and Georges Bank Winter RV Survey (1986-2004).

Winter skate has declined throughout a considerable part its Canadian range. In the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (Div 4T), a decline in mature winter skate (>50 cm) of 98.1% was estimated from 1971 to 2002, based on data obtained from Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Fall RV Survey CPUE (catch per unit effort) estimates. No winter skate larger than 75 cm have been caught in this survey. Among the surveys that have been undertaken on the Scotian Shelf, two are of sufficient duration to allow for the estimation of decline rates. Based on data obtained from the Scotian Shelf (Div 4VWX) Summer RV Survey, a decline in mature winter skate (>75 cm) of 91.8% was estimated from 1970 to 2003. Based on 4VW Cod March RV Survey CPUE data, a decline in mature skate (>75 cm) of 96.4% was estimated for the 1986-2002 time period. No discernible trend in abundance is evident for mature winter skate from the Georges Bank Winter RV Survey (1986-2004). Winter skate are rare in Newfoundland and Northern Gulf waters.

Estimates of minimum abundance for skate of all ages and sizes, based on research vessel survey data for 2002, are as follows: Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence populations – 100 000; Eastern Scotian Shelf population – 750 000; Georges Bank-Western Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy – 1.7 million; Northern Gulf-Newfoundland – no estimate available. Abundance estimates for mature individuals only are unavailable. 

Winter skate are targets of directed fisheries in Canada and the United States. The TAC on the Eastern Scotian Shelf has declined from 2000 t in 1994 to 200 t annually since 2002.