Thorny skate (Amblyraja radiata) populations in the Northwest Atlantic have declined rapidly over the past four decades, particularly in US waters, where numbers are at a historic all-time low.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature designates the US population of thorny skate as “critically endangered,” its highest level of threat assessment (short of extinct in the wild).
The decline in thorny skate populations is mostly due to excessive bycatch mortality and illegal harvest.
Efforts to rebuild the populations by the US and Canada have failed, and best available science indicates population numbers remain critically low. Listing thorny skates under the ESA may be the only way to save this species in US waters.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service and its Canadian counterpart have completely failed to reform the many fishing practices that are threatening the survival of this species,” said DJ Schubert, AWI wildlife biologist.
“These agencies are clearly and irresponsibly placing the interests of the commercial fish industry over the survival and recovery of the thorny skate.”
AWI previously submitted a similar petition to list thorny skates in 2011, which NMFS rejected, claiming that the scientific evidence did not warrant a listing.
The new petition provides additional evidence of the populations’ decline.
“This species is in serious trouble in the Northwest Atlantic, and if we don’t move to protect it now, we may never see it in this range again,” said senior staff attorney Jane Davenport at Defenders of Wildlife.
“Preserving biodiversity and healthy population levels for all marine species is the key to ocean health.”