Note­book

Skate

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

MER­MAID’S purse is the ro­man­tic name given to the puffed-out egg cases of skate that used to be stranded on the beach by the re­treat­ing tides. Decades ago, they were com­mon­place on the south coast—brit­tle, black pods with horns (top right). I can’t re­mem­ber when I last saw one.

Al­though there was a time when this re­mark­able, rhom­bic-shaped fish was abun­dant and chalked up on the slate of ev­ery fish shop’s daily catch, the ‘com­mon’ skate is now any­thing but. Of­fi­cially clas­si­fied as Crit­i­cally En­dan­gered, it has a real risk of ex­tinc­tion. What hap­pened? Mas­sive over­fish­ing oc­curred in the 20th cen­tury, for its flavour­ful ‘wings’, and many died as by­catch in trawled fish­ing for other species. Miles of their seabed habi­tats have been de­stroyed, in­creas­ing mor­tal­ity in an an­i­mal that takes 11 years to ma­ture.

Some­times called the ‘manta ray of the North’, an un­hin­dered skate may achieve a wing­span of 9ft and can live for 50–100 years. Al­though its un­der­side looks com­i­cally hu­man, the ‘eyes’ above its lus­cious lips are nos­trils, the ac­tual eyes be­ing on the top sur­face. Their last British strong­hold is off north-west Scot­land, where re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions still suf­fer stress and dam­age from an­glers. Present EU law makes it il­le­gal to fish skate com­mer­cially or to keep it on board if landed ac­ci­den­tally. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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