Shetland Flapper Skate Tagging Project
The Marine Science team at UHI Shetland have launched a two-year project to study Europe’s largest skate species, the flapper skate, in the seas around Shetland. This species is also locally called “barn-door” skate and previously referred to as “common skate” but is now considered critically endangered. The research team are calling for anglers and those within the commercial fishing industry to report any sightings of tagged skate in the hope of following the movement of the species.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are increasing numbers of flapper skate around Shetland. However, there is a lack of basic information on the biology and movement of the species. The team are using a tag-recapture method and underwater video cameras to address these knowledge gaps.
Footage from the underwater video cameras deployed in August have already provided remarkable insights into the behaviour and interactions of flapper skate. In footage shared by UHI Shetland, flapper skate are observed investigating a bait bag attached to specially designed camera landers used around Fair Isle.
Mia McAllister, a researcher working on the project commented “I have been studying skate species around Shetland for the past couple of years, so I am very excited to be working on such an important project and to get a chance to interact with these impressive animals. When we first reviewed the footage from Fair Isle we were amazed, within minutes there were large flapper skate investigating the lander. On multiple occasions the entire lander, weighing 20 kg, was picked up and moved around by different flapper skate, their strength is incredible, we hadn’t seen anything like it before.”
The team are also using yellow numbered tags which they attach to the wings of flapper skate in the hope that members of the public will observe and report these tagged specimens so that their movement and growth can be understood.
“We are six weeks into the fieldwork element of the project” explained Shaun Fraser, Senior Fisheries Scientist at UHI Shetland “and already we have tagged dozens of flapper skate all around Shetland from Fair Isle to Fetlar. This has mostly been achieved by sampling catches from our annual inshore fish surveys. We are also expanding our coverage by tagging catches from angling vessels and local fishing competitions. Going forward, for the project to be a success its vital that anglers and the commercial fishing industry please work with us and report sightings of tagged skate. I urge anyone in the community interested in helping us with the project to please get in touch.”
This project is supported by the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF) and by players of People’s Postcode Lottery through the National Trust for Scotland’s Love our Nature project.
For information on what to do if you see a tagged skate you can contact the team by WhatsApp on 07385 433508 or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The team are asking anyone who catches a tagged skate to contact them with the following information:
- Tag number
- Length (from nose tip to tail tip) or width (maximum distance across wings)
- Location (lat/long or grid reference if possible)
To find out more about the project please visit the UHI Shetland website or the Shetland Community Wildlife Group website. The researchers are also particularly keen to join local anglers who might be interested in helping expand the tagging work. If you are an angler and would be willing to help, please contact the UHI Shetland Marine Science team.