Later today, the annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) begins in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The marine conservation world should pay close attention. NAFO made history in 2004 by becoming the first regional fisheries management organization to set a shared quota for a shark, skate, or ray fishery, but the future of that legacy is in question.
I write a lot about shark conservation issues, but I rarely focus on their fellow elasmobranchs. Rays and skates have similar life history strategies as sharks, and many species are similarly overfished. A friend just sent me a cool paper about the conservation of skates, which provides an excellent opportunity to remedy this oversight.
A major issue standing between well-managed elasmobranch fisheries and the mess we find ourselves in today is species identification. Many species look very similar (in some cases, DNA tests are required to tell them apart), which makes recording catch statistics extremely difficult. In fact, United States fishery management policy sometimes focuses on species complexes (i.e. “Large Coastal Sharks”) of sharks rather than individual species. Species identification is a major issue for skates as well.