Phylum: Chordata - Class: Elasmobranchii - Order: Rajiformes - Family: Rajidae
Now a very rare fish (threatened with extinction in most areas other than Toff part of the coast of western Scotland), the Common Skate can weigh up to 250lb (110kg) with an overall length of nearly three metres; a 208lb specimen broke the British rod-caught record in 2014; the fish was returned to freedom after being weighed..
For many years anglers have operated a voluntary ban on taking Common Skate, and commercial fishermen have been urged to return any skate they catch.
These large predators live in deep water - typically 30 to 300m but occasionally as deep as 600 m - and feed on crabs, lobsters, bottom-dwelling fish and even other smaller kinds of rays. They are occasionally caught by anglers fishing from boats.
Male and female skates have prickles on the underside of the body and a row of spines down the tail. They are generally a darker grey-brown than thornback rays, and the underside is blue-grey.
The egg of a skate is what (along with similar shaped eggs of other members of the shark family, including dogfish and tope) we commonly call a 'mermaid's purse', and it is typically 6cm long and 4cm wide with four horns, one at each corner.
The young skate illustrated below has recently hatched from its egg and absorbed the yolk sac, so now it must find its own food. Its five gills can be seen now, but as it grows up only the five gill slits on each side will remain visible. The skate is a slow-growing fish and will take at least ten years to reach sexual maturity.
More information is available at: www.sharktrust.org
If you found this information helpful, you would probably find the new 2017 edition of our bestselling book Matching the Hatch by Pat O'Reilly very useful. Order your copy here...