NMFS Leaves Thorny Skates on Thin Ice

The United States has prohibited the landing and possession of thorny skates in U.S. waters since 2003. Despite this, their numbers have dropped precipitously, to a point alarmingly below the threshold needed to ensure the species’ survival. In an effort to protect this highly imperiled relative of rays and sharks, AWI petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in August to list thorny skates under the Endangered Species Act.

Disappointingly, the NMFS recently issued a negative “90-day finding” on the petition. Although the NMFS conceded that the most recent three-year average of population estimates represents an all-time low for thorny skates, the agency relied on a modest uptick in numbers in 2009 and 2010 and a reported decrease in the mortality rate of bycaught skates as ostensible evidence that the current regulations are working. AWI is not convinced and is examining all options to fight for the continued survival of thorny skates.