The barndoor skate is one of the largest skates in the world. Skates are closely related to the rays and more distantly related to sharks. The skates are the most diverse lineage of the cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, and rays). The term ‘cartilaginous fishes’ refers to the fact that these groups do not have true bone and instead have skeletons made of hardened cartilage. barndoor skates grow to lengths of at least 5 feet (1.5 m) and weights up to 44 pounds (20 kg). Historically, they were commercially valuable.
Barndoor skates are active predators on continental shelves off the east coast of North America. This species is known to live from shallow coastal waters to depths of at least 2500 feet (750 m). Like most skates and rays, they live on the seafloor, where they hunt a variety of invertebrate and fish prey. They seemingly eat just about anything that strays too near. They are even known to eat small sharks.
This species reproduces via internal fertilization, and females spawn clutches of several, well-protected eggs. Unlike many fishes that have pelagic eggs, barndoor skates attach their eggs to hard surfaces on the seafloor. After laying the eggs, the mother does not provide any further parental care for her offspring. Well-developed juveniles hatch and immediately begin a predatory lifestyle. Barndoor skates are slow growing and likely do not reach maturity until they are 8-11 years old. These life history characteristics make this species vulnerable to overfishing.
During the last 50 years, barndoor skates have been depleted by fisheries that target them or capture them accidentally when targeting other species. Bottom fisheries targeting Atlantic cod and other species accidentally capture a large number of barndoor skates. As a result of a strange regulation in the United States that does not require skate fishers to identify their catch to species, managers were historically unable to determine exactly how many individuals of this species were being captured. This anomaly caused numbers to drop more quickly than may have otherwise. Though recent conservation efforts have succeeded in causing barndoor skate numbers to being to grow, scientists still consider this species to be endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction).
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.