Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura marine protected area (MPA) that was designated in July 2014 does recognise that common skate is critically endangered with declining numbers worldwide. Common skate was identified as an MPA search feature due to its endangered status as well as for its relevance to Scottish waters. The prohibition on landing common skate was introduced in 2009 and as such there has to date been an insufficient time series to statistically assess whether common skate is currently stable, declining or increasing in our waters. A survival rate of 0.64 is low, but the report cited by the member also states that there is considerable uncertainty surrounding this figure. Nevertheless it suggests the species still requires further protection and we hope to be able to do our part to help this iconic species retain its place in our seas.
With regards to fishing we have recently ended a consultation on approaches to management within the MPAs which includes Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MPA. The approaches for the MPA that were presented for consultation were for the conservation of more features than just the common skate – management has also been proposed for benthic features that would also confer protection for common skate. As a result of this wider protection, there are a range of depths from the shallows of Loch Sunart to the deeps of the Sound of Jura being proposed in the MPA management approaches that would provide protection to the common skate. The approaches that relate to tickler chains are being proposed as there is evidence that this type of gear can cause damage to the common skate, and the purpose of this proposed measure is to ensure this is not used in this area by other fleets in the future. There have however been very few studies of damage caused by nephrops trawls on skate so at this stage there is little evidence available to support stricter approaches that relate to nephrops trawls. As with the other designations there is not a target for coverage of fisheries management; instead the aim is to have management in place that achieves the conservation objectives and the approaches we have consulted on reflect the views of our scientific advisers to achieve the objectives. The next stage in considering the management is to analyse the responses we have received from the consultation and a decision will be made following this analysis on the levels of management required to achieve the conservation objectives for the common skate in the MPA. The aim is to implement these measures by the end of 2015.