Dunbeg scientist appeals for help from sea anglers
SEA ANGLERS who have fished for common skate off the West Coast could have photographs that could help scientists.
Anyone who has fished in a West Coast Marine Protected Area (MPA) could have valuable information stored on their phones, computers or in family albums.
Marine scientists studying the world’s largest skate species in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA are asking anglers to share any photographs they have of common skate, sometimes known as flapper skate, which were caught and released in the area during the past 10 years.
The species has suffered a serious decline in population numbers over recent decades and the fish is the main focus of marine biologists’ research in the MPA.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) at Dunstaffnage and the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN) are working together on a project looking to see if individual skates can be identified by the spot patterns on their backs.
So far this research has focused on an archive of more than 400 photographs taken between 2011 and 2016 by angling charter boat skipper Ronnie Campbell, who comes from Oban.
From these photos, more than 200 individual skate have already been identified.
Dr Steven Benjamins from SAMS, who is leading the research, said: ‘ We have found that spot patterns vary a lot between individuals. Some fish are almost completely dark brown all over with hardly any spots, some are completely covered in tiny spots in a type of mottled pattern and some have distinct patterns of large spots.
‘Typically, the spots themselves are very clear but they can sometimes be blurred at the edges, or spots might have a dark centre, forming rings or doughnuts. Any and all of these features may allow identification of individuals.’
Anglers with photos they are happy to share with the project should contact skates@sams. ac.uk or visit the dedicated SAMS website at https://skates. sams.ac.uk.