Common skate are one of the largest fish in European waters. They have wide, flat bodies, ‘wings’ and long tails lined with sharp spines. The colour of skate varies -some have brownish-grey upperparts; others are dappled with white or grey blotches. The undersides are greyish white.
The eyes are on the top of the head while the huge mouth – filled with rows of small teeth – is on the underside.
Holes just behind the eyes (called spiracles) allow water to be taken in. Without them, the fish would have to breathe through the mouth like most other fish. With rays and skate which lie flat on the sea bed, this would be a problem, for they’d get a mouthful ofsand or gravel every time they tried to breathe!
Skate prefer gravel, shingle bottoms, rough, rocky ridges and huge boulders.
They are often located near underwater cliffs. In the winter and spring they lie in deep water – 90-150m (300-500ft). In May, June and July they move into water about 45-75m(150-250ft)deep. Common skate were once found all around the British Isles, but overfishing has now greatly reduced populations of these magnificent fish. Only a few areas have sufficient numbers of skate – the west coast of Ireland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands and the north and west coasts of Scotland.
Many boated skate have regurgitated large crabs, spurdogs and thornback rays. Skate also prey upon pollack, coalfish, cod and lobster. Concealed by their dark, flat bodies, skate lie motionless on the sea bed during a strong tide, waiting for unwary fish to swim near. The voracious predators then pounce upon their quarry.
Because the eyes are on the top of the body and the mouth is on the bottom, common skate sometimes miss their prey. If that happens, they trap the victim under a ‘wing1 and then manoeuvre it toward their large mouths.
Skate can also feed in mid-water, chasing pilchards, herrings, coalfish and pollack from above.
Fishing for skate requires simple but heavy tackle. Usually size 8/0-12/0 hooks, baited with coalfish or mackerel, are sufficient. Use either heavy monofilament or wire traces; the big fish aren’t spooked by heavy traces and often greedily devour two or three baits before an angler can set the hook.
Common skate are members of a family of fish which have skeletons of cartilage, not bone. They are a bit like flat sharks. In spring and summer skate move into shallow water to mate. Females deposit numerous egg cases along rocky or gravel bottoms. After about five to six months young skate emerge from their cases in search of food -small crustaceans and fish.