The common skate (Dipturus batis) is one of the largest fish species in British waters. They are an elasmobranch species found on sandy or muddy seabeds down to depths of 600m. The skate can also live for between 50-100 years!
Although once common to all shores, its distribution is now limited to the Celtic Sea and off the coast of North-West Scotland. This is primarily due to decades of overfishing that have damaged miles of delicate seabed habitats that fish such as this rely on. Their population decline means they are listed as Critically Endangered species on the IUCN Red List and a priority species under the UK Post-2010 biodiversity framework. Fortunately it is prohibited to fish Skate in EU waters and they must be returned to waters unharmed if caught.
Genetic research into the species has found that the common skate is actually 2 species: the flapper skate (Dipturus intermedia) and the blue skate (Dipturus flossada).Flapper skates occur in the northern North Sea and off Scotland’s north-west coast. The smaller blue skate is the main species found in the Celtic Sea and around Rockall. The two species overlap across a wide area of the Celtic Seas ecoregion.
Their diet mostly consists of crustaceans with the help of their powerful jaws although their speed and manoeuvrability also allows them to catch pelagic species such as mackerel too.
The common skate is olive to dark brown in colour with a pattern of lighter ‘spots’ on the back. Adult skates have two rows of 12-18 thorns on their tail. The variation between individuals spot patters has been used in photo-identification studies to monitor and investigate the Scottish skate population. You can visit Skatespotter to find out more!
Skates reproduce by laying egg cases containing embryos which remain on the seabed or attached to sea weed while the embryo develops into a young skate. You can help identify possible skate nurseries and aid conservation efforts by reporting any egg cases you find washed up or taking part in a survey for The Shark Trust.