CHATHAM – Chatham fishermen, no longer catching cod, are coming into port loaded with skates, whose wings are prized by chefs for their mild, slightly sweet taste and firm texture.
But more and more fishermen are seeing a species they can't land: the barndoor skate, the largest of the skate species and once considered so rare, a candidate for being on the Endangered Species List.
Fishermen are hoping to change that. Under the terms of an experimental fishing permit granted by the National Marine Fisheries Service this week, 14 vessels from the Chatham-based Georges Bank Fixed Gear Sector will be allowed to keep a portion of the barndoor skates they catch in return for providing much-needed scientific information on the species.
"We started hearing from people that they were seeing a lot more, and that kept growing and growing, and we started to talk to the service," said John Pappalardo, executive director of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance.
Even though their own research vessels had encountered a dramatic increase in the numbers of barndoor skates since 2000, the fisheries service told the alliance it didn't have the data to verify a population increase and that it wasn't a priority species, Pappalardo said. The last full stock assessment on skates was in 1999.
Fishermen decided it was time to get the data themselves.
"If you can't get to the point where you have enough data to manage the stock, then let us fill these gaps," Pappalardo said.
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