Scotland’s extended the protection for flapper skate
The critically endangered flapper skate is to gain further protection following the extension of an urgent Marine Protected Area (MPA) within the Inner Sound of Skye.
The site protects a nationally important flapper skate egg nursery area which is the largest of its kind to be identified in Scotland. The original site was given urgent MPA status in March this year after more than a hundred eggs were discovered and to protect the fragile species a number of marine activities, including bottom contacting fishing, aquaculture, and construction, were prohibited within the MPA for an initial 12 month period.
Surveys have now discovered a significant number of flapper skate eggs to the north of the original urgently designated MPA and due to the vulnerability of the eggs, the site boundary is being extended to include them.
A public consultation will take place in February 2022 before a decision on the permanence of the site’s protected status is made.
Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said:
“The flapper skate was once abundant in our seas but is now sadly depleted.
“The eggs discovered are very encouraging but they are also fragile – and, in a climate and nature crisis, we must do what we can to protect them.
“That’s why we moved quickly in March to offer protected status to the site where some 100 eggs were found. Now, with the discovery of over 400 more eggs within the original site and more than 700 more eggs to the north of the original site, we have decided to extend that urgent protection to include the newly discovered eggs.
“I hope that our swift action will help this critically endangered species recover to healthy status in Scottish waters. This extension will ensure continued protection while public consultation on the permanence of the designation is ongoing and we will, of course, work with all stakeholders – including in fisheries – to manage the impact of any permanent protection.”
Flapper skate was historically abundant in the North-east Atlantic and widely distributed in the seas surrounding the British Isles, however its range has reduced significantly and catch rates declined throughout the 20th century. Part of the common skate complex (along with blue skate), they are on the OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats List and the list of Priority Marine Features.
The Red Rocks and Longay MPA was designated urgently by Scottish Minsters in March 2021, following advice from NatureScot and using the powers under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The urgently designated site can be in place for up to 2 years, and public consultation is required before the site can be made permanent.
NatureScot undertook surveys between July and September 2021 and a significant number of flapper skate eggs were discovered to the north of the original urgently designated MPA boundary. Preliminary review of video footage from the locations surveyed provided counts of an estimated 725 eggs observed outside the original urgently designated MPA boundary, and an estimated 462 eggs observed inside.
Due to the vulnerability of the flapper skate eggs, NatureScot are advising the site boundary should be extended. The proposed extension would protect the eggs present outside the original urgently designated MPA boundary while continuing protection for the eggs inside the original boundary.
A new Urgent Nature Conservation MPA Designation Order was signed on 08 December 2021 and a new Urgent Marine Conservation Order (MCO) has been signed & laid in parliament today (09 December 2021). Both will come into effect on 16 December 2021 giving urgent protection to the extended area.