Fresh skate landed in the winter is considered the best quality but is more available during the summer and fall. They are sold fresh, frozen, whole, in skin-off fillets, or skin-on wings. The wings of the longnose skate are the only edible parts. They have a striated, open-fan structure due to the flesh being separated by strips of cartilage. It has a mild flavor similar to scallops. The soft texture firms up after chilling but has a stringy texture. The flesh has an off-white, slightly pink color and cooks to an off-white color. Each wing produces two fillets, one from the upper side and one from the lower side. Like sharks, skates eliminate urea through their skin, so the tough skin should be removed.
Longnose skates are flat-bodied cartilaginous fishes belonging in the elasmobranch family that include sharks, rays, and other skates. They are kite-shaped with a very long and pointed snout. Their dorsal skin is a uniform brown, blue-grey with a dark ring at the base of each pectoral fin. They have a row of about 20 sharp mid-dorsal spines running from mid-body to the base of the tail.
Longnose skates grow slowly, have a low reproductive rate, and population stability depends on a few well-developed offspring. They grow up to four feet in length and can live between 14 to 26 years old, maturing at about six to nine years old and at around 24 to 29 inches (62-74 centimeters) total length for males and 27 to 39 inches (11-15 centimeters) for females. Females are larger than males. There is no distinct spawning season for longnose skate, and egg laying occurs year-round. The egg is fertilized inside the female and then laid in an egg case known as the “mermaid’s purse” onto the sea floor in sandy or muddy flats. The egg cases are oblong capsules with stiff pointed horns at the corners. Females lay less than 50 eggs per year, but there is a relatively high survival rate of eggs. Juvenile longnose skates have smooth skin, while adults have small prickles or thorns on their exterior.
Longnose skates feed mainly on small bony fishes as well as invertebrates such as crustaceans and molluscs. They hunt by pouncing on their prey and trapping it against the seafloor. Longnose skate are eaten by large fish and sharks but have avoidance adaptations such as camouflaged skin color and the ability to bury themselves when threatened, scared, or hunting.
Longnose skates are found throughout the eastern Pacific Ocean within 61°N - 28°N ranging from Navarin Canyon in the Bering Sea and Unalaska Island, Alaska south to Cedros Island, Baja California, and Mexico. Longnose skates are commonly found on the seafloor either partially or completely buried under sand or silt bottoms with only their eyes visible above the substrate. They can also be found over mud-cobble bottoms near areas with vertical relief. Longnose skates generally occur at depths ranging from 29–2,215 feet (9-675 meters) but can be found at depths of over 3,510 feet (1,069 meters). Adults and juveniles do not exhibit size-specific patterns in distribution and average size, and distribution does not seem relative to bottom depth.
Science & Management
In order to study skate mortality as bycatch, skates are collected during bottom trawl surveys conducted by NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and National Marine Fisheries Service observer programs. This research includes: obtaining biological measurements, taking samples of reproductive tracts, and removing vertebrae sections to conduct age analysis. Continued biological study is needed to protect the species from becoming bycatch in the future.
To improve population models, and produce effective management plans for longnose skates, more research is necessary in the following fields:
Data on size, sex, and species composition of recreational and commercial catch
Survival rates for released catch
Life history parameters for the species, including age determination and age validation
Population dynamics, including movement, to help determine if increased landings of previously discarded catch are altering the impact of the species
Genetic studies to determine stocks
NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) manage the US West Coast longnose skate fishery as part of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Implemented in 1982, the Pacific Coast Groundfish FMP covers over 90 species including rockfish, flatfish, and other skates caught off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. The US commercial groundfish fishery is comprised of three components: Limited Entry (LE), Open Access (OA), and Nearshore (NS). The LE and OA sectors are managed by the PFMC while the NS sector is jointly managed by the PFMC and the states of Oregon and California.
Longnose skates are slow-growing and late-to-mature – characteristics that make them inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure. Despite this vulnerability, the US West Coast population is considered healthy and the most recent stock assessment indicated that biomass is above management targets and fishing mortality is below. Longnose skate management is considered strong on the US West Coast due to management measures undertaken by the entire West Coast groundfish fleet such as:
- Spatial closures
- Gear restrictions
- Catch limits
- A catch share program
- 100% at-sea and dockside monitoring
Additionally, state regulations aimed at protecting sharks – such as California state law AB 376 – mandate that all skates be landed whole with their wings attached. Passed in 2011, AB 376 also mandates that skates can only be purchased whole and not as wings.
The multispecies nature of the US West Coast groundfish fishery often makes the distinction between “target” and “bycatch” species unclear. Longnose skate are primarily discarded in several fisheries, but are commonly caught and retained as incidental catch in the US West Coast trawl fisheries, especially for arrowtooth flounder, Pacific cod, and Pacific halibut. 95% of skate landings in the US West Coast groundfish fishery are by bottom trawl, and 78% of all skate landings are longnose skate. Smaller amounts are also taken and mostly discarded by the LE longline and OA longline fisheries. There are no target fisheries for longnose skates in the Gulf of Alaska and after 2005 directed fishing was prohibited. Incidental catches in other fisheries are high enough that they are considered “in the fishery” and thus require harvest specifications.
NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the longnose skate fishery in Alaska under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Management Area. Historically, skates have not been a target of groundfish fisheries operating in the BSAI or GOA and were principally caught as bycatch in the longline Pacific cod and bottom trawl pollock and flatfish fisheries. Today, longnose skates are primarily caught as part of the multispecies groundfish fishery in the GOA and BSAI and incidental catch remains high. Among management measures addressed for all species under the plans are:
- Total allowable catch (TAC) limits
- Time, gear, area restrictions
- Permit limitations
Longnose skate are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Canada. Together with big skate, longnose skates account for more than 95% of the skate taken in British Columbia fisheries. The majority of longnose skate catch is made off western Vancouver Island and they are primarily exploited by the groundfish trawl fleet and the hook and line halibut fleet. Targeted exploitation of longnose skates began in 1996; however, a detailed stock assessment has never been completed for the species. Thus, the stock status is unknown, but there are indications that the current British Columbia stock is in decline as historical catches have exceeded the maximum sustainable yield for the species.
Longnose skate are slow-growing, making them inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure. Although U.S. West Coast populations have declined since the 1900s (e.g. biomass decreased in the Gulf of Alaska from 49,501 tons to 32,279 tons in 2019), current stocks remain above management targets and the stock is likely healthy. They are classified as not overfished.
The stock status in Canada is unknown and there are indications that abundance is declining.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Longnose skates are caught using bottom longline and bottom trawl gear. Spatial management measures have helped mitigate gear impacts along the U.S. West Coast.
The use of bottom longline and bottom trawls in the British Columbia fisheries regularly comes into contact with the seafloor, allowing for the potential for habitat disturbance and destruction. When fishing over hard substrates, gear disturbance can cause more damage than in soft substrates, especially in high-energy areas. Policies are being developed in Canada to prevent impacts to the seafloor.
Bycatch in the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery that catches longnose skate is low, and the multi-species nature of the fishery makes it difficult to clearly identify bycatch at times. The fishery does catch other species that are depleted, vulnerable to overfishing, or both, but none are being overfished.
The fishery in British Columbia, Canada, also catches other species that are depleted, vulnerable to overfishing, or both. There are serious concerns about these at-risk species such as certain vulnerable species of rockfish, school shark, and Pacific grenadier.
Longnose skate management on the U.S. West Coast is considered strong. Management measures include gear restrictions, catch limits, and a catch share program.
In Canada, a moderately effective management framework exists but implementation has been inconsistent, and many species are unassessed. Habitat protection measures like closed areas and gear modifications are in place and further policies are being developed to protect the seafloor from gear impacts.