About the Species
Winter skate is managed as a part of the Northeast Skate Complex along with six other skate species in the same fishery management plan. Of these species, winter skates are the primary species harvested for human consumption, for the meat in their wings. U.S. wild-caught winter skate is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level.
At recommended level.
Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat that are affected by some kinds of trawl gear.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2020 stock assessment, winter skate is not overfished and not subject to overfishing. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- Seven skate species, including winter skate, are managed as one northeast skate complex. There is a lack of data for this complex. New requirements to report skate landings by species should improve the data-poor nature of this complex.
- Estimates of winter skate abundance, or biomass, peaked in the mid-1980s, declined through the early 1990s, and increased again in recent years to moderately high levels.
- Skates are a relative of sharks and rays and have a kite-like shape.
- Winter skates are light brown and covered with small dark spots.
- Small spines cover most of their back.
- Winter skates have large bodies and can grow up to 5 feet in length.
- They can live for about 20 years.
- They reproduce at a late age, when they’re approximately 11 years old and 2.5 feet long.
- Skates lay eggs year-round but have few offspring. Their eggs are enclosed in a hard leathery case called a “mermaid’s purse.” The eggs incubate for 6 to 12 months, and young skates have the adult form when they hatch.
- Skates feed on a variety of organisms such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, squids, and fish.
Where They Live
- Winter skates range from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
- NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage the winter skate fishery.
- Managed under the Northeast Skate Complex Fishery Management Plan:
- Valid open access permit is required to catch, possess, transport, or sell skate.
- Annual catch limits for winter, little, clearnose, and rosette skates, as well as response measures if the catch limits are exceeded. Winter skates are the only species targeted for human consumption. Little skate is used as bait for lobster fisheries and clearnose and rosette skates are usually discarded.
- Fishermen are prohibited from retaining smooth (Gulf of Maine only), barndoor, and thorny skates.
- Trip limits.
- Fishermen and dealers must report their catch by species.
- Management measures in other fisheries also indirectly aid in the recovery of the overfished skate species and conserve the resource.
- Commercial fishery:
- In 2020, commercial landings totaled approximately 22 million pounds and were valued at $5.6 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- More than half of skate landings come from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
- Skates are harvested in two different fisheries, one for wings for human consumption and one for lobster bait.
- In the bait fishery, vessels from southern New England target mostly little skates (more than 90 percent) and, to a much lesser extent, juvenile winter skates (less than 10 percent). Juvenile winter skates are difficult to differentiate from little skates because they look nearly identical.
- The wing fishery is labor-intensive because the wings need to be cut into fillets, but participation has grown recently due to increasing restrictions on other, more profitable groundfish species.
- In the wing fishery, mainly trawlers and gillnetters harvest winter skates when targeting other species such as groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Fishermen keep the skates if the price is profitable.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Most skates are caught incidentally in otter trawl fisheries targeting other more valuable species, such as groundfish, monkfish, and scallops. Otter trawls can impact habitat depending on where they are used. They can also interact with marine mammals (e.g., whales, harbor porpoises, and seals) and sea turtles. Management measures including closed areas, restrictions on gear and fishing effort, and modifying fishing gear to reduce contact with habitat help reduce these impacts and interactions.
- Skates are also caught in bottom gillnet fisheries, which have less of an impact on habitat.
- Skates are caught and discarded as bycatch in numerous fisheries, but the rate of discards has decreased in recent years as the value of skate products has increased.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
Winter skate is managed as a part of the Northeast Skate Complex along with six other skate species in the same fishery management plan (FMP). For more information on management of this species and skates in the Greater Atlantic Region, visit the Northeast Skate Complex Group Species Page or the FMP page.