issues and experts

Barndoor skate a Canadian success story as other shark and ray species face extinction

December 10, 2020

Simon Fraser University professor Nick Dulvy says the world can look to Canada’s example of bringing the Barndoor skate back from the brink as more shark and ray species face extinction.

Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has today updated the status of 422 shark, ray and ghost shark species. While there has never been a recorded extinction or even possible extinction of a shark or ray species before, the Lost Shark – formerly found in the South China Sea – has been listed as “critically endangered (possibly extinct)”.

“Many shark and ray species are declining around the world, but there are signs that fisheries management and conservation measures can work,” said Dulvy, Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and co-chair of IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group. “The story of the Barndoor skate shows that with the appropriate efforts, including prohibitions and regulation of fishing, that even rays with slow life histories can be brought back from the brink of extinction.” 

The Barndoor skate is the largest shelf-dwelling skate species in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, including the waters off the coast of Newfoundland. Its range includes the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Grand Banks and Flemish Cap. The species was listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List in 2003 after fishing activity eliminated up to 99 per cent of its population.

After years of fishing prohibitions in the U.S. and closure of the directed skate fishery in Canada, Barndoor skate populations have now recovered to the same levels they were at during the 1960s before its sudden decline. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada assessed the Barndoor skate to be “not at risk” in 2011. It is now listed as "least concern" on the IUCN Red List.

The reasons for this recovery are not fully understood. But, recovery is thought to have been aided by a 2003 ban on possession and landing of Barndoor skates in the U.S. and the 2003 closure of a directed skate fishery on the Scotian Shelf in Canadian waters. 

As well, the species may have refuge in waters deeper than where fishing activity occurs. A shift in biomass out to greater depths during the decline and subsequent return to shallower waters could help to explain such a rapid recovery.

But it wouldn’t take much to put the Barndoor skate back at risk. With the species rebounding, the U.S. government granted permits for an experimental Barndoor skate fishery in 2014 and increased possession limits on the species in 2018 despite uncertainty over skate fishery data and population status.

“There is still cause for concern for this inherently sensitive species,” Dulvy warns.



Nick Dulvy, professor, Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation | 

Nathan Pacoureau, postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Biological Sciences, Earth to Ocean Research Group | (*Can do interviews in French)



Matt Kieltyka,  SFU Communications & Marketing 
236.880.2187 |

Simon Fraser University 
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