ENVIRONMENT: Volunteers sought for rare fish spotting project

By Harry Bell

Volunteers are being sought for a citizen science project to gather information on a population of critically endangered fish, according to BBC Scotland.

Scientists have created a photo database of flapper skate found in Argyll’s Loch Sunart and in the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area.

They have found that individual skate can be identified from the spot patterns on their backs.

Researchers hope the database will provide insights into the rare species.

Flapper skate can grow to more than 2m (6.5ft) in length and are long-lived – it takes the fish more than 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Adults feed on prawns, other skate and small sharks.

Measuring a flapper skate
A flapper skate being measured before being released back into the sea.

Historical over-fishing and disturbance by trawlers of seabed where skates have laid their eggs has led to declines in their numbers.

It has been illegal to land flapper skate commercially since 2009 but flapper skate as still vulnerable to capture as by-catch.

Fishing boat crews that accidentally catch the fish are required to return them to sea as quickly as possible.

The photographs for the database are provided by anglers who catch the skate before releasing them back into the water.

The anglers also post information on the size of the fish and the locations of where the same skate are being caught.

Volunteers are needed to help match up images of the same skates in the database.

The SkateSpotter project is being run by NatureScot and the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

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