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Flapper skate being measured as part of a research programme. ©Jane Dodd/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Flapper skate

These remarkable creatures of the deep were once common in British waters. Now only small populations remain, including in Scotland.

In 2009, it was found that the fish previously known as ‘common skate’ is actually two distinct species:

  • flapper skate (Dipturus intermedia)
  • blue skate (Dipturus flossada)

Flapper skates occur in the northern North Sea and off Scotland’s north-west coast. The smaller blue skate is the main species found in the Celtic Sea and around Rockall. The two species overlap across a wide area of the Celtic Seas ecoregion.

The flapper skate belongs to the elasmobranch or shark family. Instead of bones, it has a skeleton formed of cartilage.

Threats to flapper skates

Flapper skate eggs are large. This means that both the eggs and the newly hatched young that emerge from them are at risk of accidental capture in towed gears.

Flapper skates are slow to grow and mature, and so population numbers in Scotland will also be slow to recover even now that some protection is in place.

Protection of flapper skates

Sea anglers travel from all over the world for a chance to catch the flapper skate. All angling for this species in Scotland is on a ‘catch and release’ basis.

In 2009, it became illegal to land flapper skates and blue skates commercially. Both species and their large egg cases remain vulnerable to becoming by catch.

Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area was designated in 2015 to protect the resident flapper skate population. In 2016, it became illegal to fish using towed gears in certain parts of the NCMPA.

Studying flapper skates

Data provided by anglers through tagging projects dating back more than 30 years has been invaluable in protecting the flapper skate and continues to help us protect them.

In 2016, we trained charter skippers offering skate fishing trips in Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura NCMPA to tag skates with passive integrated transponder tags. This helps us to monitor the size of the flapper skate population in the NCMPA.

We also collaborate with the Scottish Association for Marine Science on Skatespotter, a database for skate photo ID in Scotland and where anyone can upload photos of skate from anywhere in Scotland.

In 2016/17, Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland Science attached acoustic and data storage tags to flapper skates to learn about their fine-scale movements. The large amount of data generated by this project is the subject of a PhD at St Andrews University but you can read a short report on the project.

Non-anglers can help us to understand where skates breed by looking out for skate egg cases on beaches. Find out what to look for and how to submit your findings on the Shark Trust Great Eggcase Hunt website.

Following Scotland's sharks: the common skate and the spurdog

Duration
30:07

Video from a lecture given by Dr James Thorburn, Marine Science Scotland - 'Following Scotland's sharks : The common skate and the spurdog' - September 2017.
Credit: Scottish Natural Heritage

Caption
Seeing spots: developing a photo - ID catalogue for common skates in Argyll

Duration
17:57

Description
Steven Benjamins - Scottish Association for Marine Science giving a lecture on 'Seeing Spots : developing a photo - ID catalogue for Common Skate in Argyll' - September 2017.
Credit: Scottish Natural Heritage
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