Over a hundred eggs belonging to the critically endangered flapper skate – previously known as the common skate – have been discovered on the rocky seabed off the north west coast of Scotland. This is the biggest and most important egg-laying site discovered to date, but it is vulnerable to trawling and dredging.
Capable of reaching over 2.5 metres (8.2ft) in length, the flapper skate is one of the largest skate species in the world. Once common in British waters, including areas like the North Sea’s Dogger Bank, it is now extinct in most of its former range. The west coast of Scotland is one of the last places it can be found, and the skate is one of 81 Priority Marine Features the Scottish Government is committed to protecting. However, despite being made aware of the site in 2019, no action has been taken by Marine Scotland to protect the charismatic species.
The discovery comes almost a year after divers recorded egg-cases at the same site in November 2019 and reported the findings to Marine Scotland. Since 2009, it has been illegal for fishermen to commercially target flapper skates, but the giant, slow-growing species is still at risk of capture and has been devastated by hundreds of years of bottom-trawling.
Flapper skate egg-cages can be over 25cm long and take almost 18 months to hatch, making them vulnerable to incidental capture or damage by fishing gears. The details of their life cycle are unclear because they are now so rare.
Volunteer divers, with the help of local fishermen, found the eggs known as mermaid’s purses nestled between small rocks. Over one hundred eggs of different sizes and ages were found, indicating that the site is home to a resident population of skate.
Chris Rickard, Underwater photographer and Conservationist said: “Having observed well over 100 purses at this site, I believe the area is being used by multiple females over many years. Unfortunately, both the purses themselves and the newly hatched young are so large that they can be caught in bottom towed gear and destroyed – a single pass with a dredge could obliterate the site.”
Divers, local fishermen and experts are now calling on the Scottish Government to take immediate action by designating a marine protected area and bring in an emergency conservation order to close it to bottom towed fishing gears.
Ailsa McLellan, Coalition Coordinator at Our Seas, said: “The Scottish Government continues to fail to step up to its duties and deliver the protection that is needed. Less than 5 per cent of our inshore waters are permanently protected from bottom towed fishing gear and even these Marine ‘Protected’ Areas are still fished illegally. We are living through a biodiversity crisis and we need to act quickly to protect what is left.”
The Scottish Government is duty bound to protect and recover the seas. It designated the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area to look after this species in 2014 but still has an obligation to protect an additional site. There are also obligations under the Scottish Government’s own national marine plan to ensure that priority species, such as this, are not harmed, and that nursery grounds are looked after.
Bally Philip from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said: “As a local fisherman and representative of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, this has been a great opportunity to showcase what can be achieved when fishing communities and conservationists work together. We have already written to our MSP and Environment Minister to inform them that the creel fishermen fully support restorations on some fishing in this area to ensure this critically endangered species is afforded the protection it requires.”
These calls for action join the voices of communities around Scotland’s coast calling on the Scottish Government to protect its seas. Marine protected areas currently cover around 30 per cent of Scotland’s territorial waters, yet about 95 per cent of Scotland’s inshore waters remain unprotected from trawling and dredging, two of the most damaging methods of fishing.
Charles Clover, Executive Director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The level of protection that a critically endangered animal such as the common or flapper skate currently receives in UK waters is utterly inadequate to the needs of the species. There are too few protected areas – particularly in Scotland – and other designated areas in UK waters, such as the Dogger Bank, receive far too little protection. We need to change the way our seas are managed or give up completely trying to conserve endangered species.”
For more information about the Blue Marine Foundation visit their website by clicking here.
BLUE EARTH – Future Frogmen Podcast Series – Deep-Sea Stories From a Shadow Diver: a conversation with Richie Kohler
A series of conservation educational podcasts from Future Frogmen, introduced by Jeff Goodman.
Deep Sea Stories From a Shadow Diver: a conversation with Richie Kohler.
This episode of the Blue Earth Podcast is a conversation with Richie Kohler. He’s an explorer, technical wreck diver, shipwreck historian, filmmaker, and author.
Richie was featured in Robert Kurson’s incredible book “Shadow Divers ”. It’s a thrilling true story about Richie and John Chatterton’s quest to identify the wreck of an unknown WWII German U-boat (submarine), 65 miles off the coast of New Jersey. They dedicated six years of their lives attempting to identify the wreck.
Richie has travelled the world and explored many deep wrecks, including the Andrea Doria, Titanic, and Britannic. He’s the author of “Mystery of The Last Olympian” about the Britannic.
Richard E Hyman Bio
Richard is the Chairman and President of Future Frogmen.
Born from mentoring and love of the ocean, Richard is developing an impactful non-profit organization. His memoir, FROGMEN, details expeditions aboard Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s famed ship Calypso.
Future Frogmen, Inc. is a nonprofit organization and public charity that works to improve ocean health by deepening the connection between people and nature. They foster ocean ambassadors and future leaders to protect the ocean by accomplishing five objectives.
You can find more episodes and information at www.futurefrogmen.org and on most social platforms @futurefrogmen.
New Fisheries Act misses the mark on sustainability, but what now?
The UK’s landmark post-Brexit fisheries legislation has now become law. The Fisheries Act, the first legislation of its kind in nearly 40 years, will shape how the UK’s seas are fished for years to come.
The Marine Conservation Society, which campaigned for amendments to the legislation throughout its development, is disappointed by the removal of key sustainability amendments and by the removal of a commitment to rolling out Remote Electronic Monitoring.
The charity has committed to pushing the UK Government to go further than the framework which the Fisheries Act sets out, with greater ambition for the state of UK seas.
Sandy Luk, Chief Executive of the Marine Conservation Society said: “UK Government and devolved administrations must act urgently to deliver climate and nature smart fisheries under the new Fisheries Act. This is a key condition if our seas are to recover to good health. The UK Government removed key amendments from the legislation while making promises on sustainability and the introduction of remote electronic monitoring. We will continue to hold the government to account over these promises.”
“I’m pleased to see the recognition of the important role fisheries play in our fight against the climate emergency. However, even with a climate change objective in the Act, actions speak louder than words. We must get to work delivering sustainable fisheries management, which will have a huge benefit to our seas, wildlife and the communities which depend upon them.”
The Fisheries Act has become law against a backdrop of the ocean’s declining health. UK waters are currently failing to meet 11 out of 15 indicators of good ocean health and over a third of fish in UK waters are being caught at levels which cannot continue into the future. Whilst the legislation failed to address some of the more pressing issues facing UK seas, including overfishing, there is still an opportunity to affect change in the years which follow.
Sam Stone, Head of Fisheries at the Marine Conservation Society said: “The Fisheries Act marks the start of a new era of fisheries management in the UK, but the next two years will be critical in defining what this looks like. The new Act has some good objectives, but we now need to come together to make sure it really delivers the on-water change that is desperately needed for ocean recovery.
“There is genuine opportunity to create fisheries that deliver for coastal communities and for the environment, but it means moving away from ‘business-as-usual’. The UK and devolved governments now have the powers to move forward with progressive new management in their waters. That means proper incentives for low impact fishing, proper monitoring of catches and proper commitments to sustainable fishing.
“In the short term, the four nations must work together to make impactful changes, starting by addressing the UK’s most at risk fish stocks. Recovery plans are needed for our depleted stocks, including new catch limits, selectivity and avoidance measures, protection of vital habitats and fully documented catches. Rolling out Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras on larger vessels throughout the UK should be top of the agenda if future policy is to be as well informed as possible.”
For more information about the Fisheries Bill and the Marine Conservation Society’s work, visit the charity’s website.
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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.More Less
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