Like all rays the blonde ray is a slow growing species that produces a small number of eggs each year, is vulnerable to over fishing and is easily by-caught in nets and trawls.
The blonde ray, Raja brachyura is a large-bodied skate species growing to a maximum size of 110cm in length. It is the most vulnerable of the main commercial skate species in this area according to a Productivity–Susceptibility Analysis (McCully et al., 2013). Unlike smaller skates blonde rays feed on cuttlefish sandeel and small fish. They are not sexually mature until they reach a length of 85- 90cm and are 8-10 years old. Once mature females will lay between 40 and 140 eggs per year between February and August. Like all sharks and rays the slow growth rate and slow reproduction make this species particularly vulnerable to fishing as it takes a very long time for populations to re-build after exploitation. Biological vulnerability score 59/100 (Cheung et al 2005).
This species has a patchy distribution and our knowledge of its stocks are not good enough to accurately predict the state of the population. Until recently identification to species level was not carried out when recording landings of skate species. ICES say that this species is most abundant in the Bristol Channel and off the west coast of Ireland. Stock levels are unknown and fishing effort is considered to be above recommended levels. ICES scientists recommend the overall catch is reduced by 20% in the Celtic sea and Western channel.
There is no specific management plan in Cornish waters for blonde rays. They are part of a mixed quota along with spotted, cuckoo, small-eyed and thornback rays in the Celtic Sea region. Quotas alone may not adequately protect these species as there are differences amongst species in their vulnerabilities to exploitation and a restrictive quota may lead to discarding. Instead seasonal and/or area closures, effort restrictions and measures to protect spawning grounds for example are recommended. There is no minimum landing size for rays.
In Cornish waters there are no specific managment measures that benefit rays however across the border in North Devon a fishing industry led initative is making ray fisheries more sustainable which may benefit Cornish stocks.
North Devon Fishermen's Association (NDFA) members voluntarily adhere to a minimum landing size (MLS) of 45cms (wing-tip to wing-tip) for all ray species to assist growth and spawning. For smaller ray species such as small-eyed ray this ensures fish are allowed to breed before they are fished. The NDFA represents an average of 70 fishermen and 650 members of the processing sector from South Wales and Cornwall as well as North Devon. It is also a founder member of the Seafish skates and rays group. By adopting initiatives to restrict landing sizes, identify conservation zones and improve catch reporting the NDFA has contributed to improved management of the ray fisheries in the Bristol Channel. Their fleet of 24 vessels is made up of both under 10 metre and up to 15.95 metre boats. The main fish landings are ray. Thornback ray, blonde, small eyed and spotted ray account for 70% of the NDFA whitefish landings. The fishery for ray is a year around fishery with the largest of landings being made late in the year. The closed area known as the Ray Box is closed to trawlers between December 1st and May 31st to protect juvenile ray and aid spawning. The area covers some 400 sq km. NDFA fishermen also comply with a Code of Practice. This practice requires that any ray below the voluntary minimum landing size of 45cm wide is handled with care and returned immediately to the sea in order to increase its chance of survival.
Blonde rays are caught in beam trawls, demersal trawls and gill nets.
These fishing methods all have issues with by-catch of non target species and impacts on the wider marine environment.
MMO landings data
Shark trust factsheets www.sharktrust.org Shark Trust; 2009. An Illustrated Compendium of Sharks, Skates, Rays and Chimaera. Chapter 1: The British Isles. Part 1: Skates and Rays.
Seafish responsible sourcing guides
ICES Advice Rays and Skates in the Celtic sea ecoregion 2013
Enever, R., Revill, A., Grant, A. (2009) The survival of skates (Rajidae) caught by demersal trawlers fishing in UK waters. Fisheries Research 97 (1-2) 72-76
Ref -Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111
McCully, S. R., Scott, F., Ellis, J. R., and Pilling, G. M. 2013. Productivity and susceptibility analysis: application andsuitability for data poor assessment of elasmobranchs in northern European seas. ICCAT Collective Volume of Scientific Papers, 69(4): 1679–1698.