Winter and little skate population demographics and social image in the Bay of Fundy

by Emma Carmichael.   

This past year, I had the immense honour of receiving the Atlantic Society of Fish and Wildlife Biologists Fish and Wildlife Research grant for my honours work at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. My work with Acadia focuses on population demographics and social image of two at-risk skate species, the winter skate, Leucoraja ocellata, and little skate, Leucoraja erinacea. The funding I received allowed me to conduct this important research on these at-risk species, build strong relationships with the fishers who catch them, and also contribute to a well-established tagging program run by Dr. Trevor Avery’s lab at Acadia University.

Though there is no direct fishery for winter and little skates currently in the Bay of Fundy, they are often caught as bycatch in large quantities. Due to their impressive biomass in the Bay of Fundy, they are very ecologically important. They also serve as indicators of ecosystem health, meaning, if we’re catching a lot of skates, there’s a good chance the ecosystem being fished is in relatively good condition. Unfortunately, due to the lack of direct fisheries for these species, as well as their prevalence in bycatch for both commercial and recreational fisheries, they have developed a bad reputation among fishers. I chose to further research this bad reputation through social image surveying of local fishers in three distinct demographics, (1) recreational fishers, (2) commercial fishers and (3) First Nations fishers. Surveys consisted of questions pertaining to general feeling toward catching skates and whether participants would support conservation efforts toward skates. Surveys also addressed similar questions, but in regards to striped bass, Morone saxatilis, so we could compare social image of skates to this more charismatic and culturally important fish.

Another aspect of my research is to maintain and contribute to Acadia’s current tagging program, which monitors both winter and little skate, as well as striped bass, and in previous years, Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus. Tagging these fish allows us to estimate their population size, track their movement, and monitor their growth over time. Citizen science plays a huge roll in obtaining tag returns, as it isn’t uncommon for an angler, commercial fisher, or even the odd beachcomber to come across our tags. We are always working alongside the public to educate them about our research, as well as encourage them to report any tags they find. Tags can be reported by visiting our website: Here, participants will receive relevant information about their tagged fish, as well as information on more ways they can get involved with our research!

Currently, I am working on the final elements of my thesis, with a focus on statistical analysis of data collected during field research, as well as processing tissue samples collected for species identification. I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone at ASFWB for the opportunity to conduct my research, as well as everyone who helped me throughout my honours research. I definitely could not have done any of this without you all, and am so grateful to have you all in my life. If you would like more information about my project, or are just simply interested in skates (because they’re so cool!), feel free to shoot me an email at I’d be happy to talk your ear off about these lovely creatures, and their importance in our environment.

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